Knowing is half the battle.
Holiday Return Policies 2012
This is the season for giving, but sometimes gifts don't turn out as well as you had planned. If your gift needs to be returned, do you know the return policy of the merchant, or whether the gift even can be returned? When an item is available at a similar price at different retail or web stores, the return policy can make a difference in where you choose to shop. We looked into the return policies of 11 major technology merchants to find out more.
Before going further, we should note that there are general return guidelines that apply to almost all merchants. For example, receipts are required, and your returned item should be in "as new" condition (which generally means that the product should be in its original packaging, with no accessories missing). Also, UPC labels (bar codes) must remain intact, since some unscrupulous customers will buy a product just to get the UPC code, which can be used to acquire mail in rebates, and then attempt to return the item (and keep the mail in rebate).
Finally, technology items often have different return policies when compared to non-technology items, so be certain that you understand the return policy for the specific product that you plan to purchase. For example, digital content (such as DVDs, software, and video games), can normally only be returned if defective, and even then only for an identical replacement product. This is done to discourage shoppers from buying an item, making a duplicate copy, and then returning the item for a refund.
Amazon.com typically offers returns for most items within 30 days of your receipt of the item. Amazon's Holiday return policy expands on this, by stating "Items shipped by Amazon.com between November 1, 2012 and December 31, 2012, may be returned until January 31, 2013, for a full refund, subject to our other return guidelines listed below." Note that this applies to items shipped by Amazon.com. Since Amazon deals with thousands of vendors, if a vendor is handling the shipping instead of Amazon, you need to check into the return policy of that particular vendor.
We also noticed a special return policy for computers: Defective computers must be returned to the computer vendor for support, not Amazon. This may result in a longer turn around time than you would get if Amazon would simply ship you a replacement computer.
Best Buy typically offers a 30 day return period, with some restrictions, depending on the product that you purchased. Best Buy's holiday return policy improves significantly on this, by stating "Gift purchases made between November 4, 2012, and December 24, 2012, qualify for our Holiday Return and Exchange policy. Products (goods) purchased as gifts may be returned through January 24, 2013."
Unlike several other return policies, we found no exceptions for computers in Best Buy's policy. Also, Best Buy offers in store returns for items purchased from BestBuy.com (which eliminates return shipping charges), and Best Buy's customer friendly policy is the only one we found that specifically states "No restocking fees".
CompUSA and TigerDirect accept General merchandise returns within 30 days of the purchase date (not "shipping date" or "delivery date"). Although it is not mentioned on their web page, TigerDirect advised us via email that "TigerDirect.com has extended our return policy to January 15, 2013 for all purchases". We are awaiting confirmation from TigerDirect that “all purchases” includes computers and televisions (which must normally be returned within 14 days). Unfortunately, TigerDirect items may not be returned to CompUSA stores.
Items such as computers and televisions are covered by a special policy which states "Some manufacturers have implemented returns restrictions that prevent CompUSA.com [or TigerDirect.com] from being able to accept returns or offer exchanges, replacements or credits on their products for any reason. Please check the item listing on our website to determine if special return policies are applicable to your products." So, be certain to check for those "special policies", particularly when buying a high end item. The policy also allows for restocking fees of up to 25% for "Non-qualified and non-conforming returns".
Costco probably isn't the first company that you think of when you shop for technology items. Still, we feel that they should be discussed here, since their return policy is one of the most liberal in retail.
Costco does not have (or really need) a holiday return policy, since their regular policy is so consumer friendly: "We guarantee your satisfaction on every product we sell with a full refund. The following must be returned within 90 days of purchase for a refund: televisions, projectors, computers, cameras, camcorders, touch screen tablets, MP3 players and cellular phones." We found no special conditions (such as restocking fees) for technology items on Costco's website.
Fry's general policy allows a 30 day return period from the time the order is shipped. Unlike Amazon, Fry's does not wait until you receive the product to begin counting down your 30 days, and Fry's does not have a separate holiday return policy.
Regarding technology items, there are several exceptions to the general policy. Fry's website states "Due to manufacturers' policies, Frys.com cannot accept returns or exchanges of certain products manufactured by … Apple, Compaq, Hewlett Packard, Intel, Mitsubishi, Sony, and Toshiba." There is also a restriction on television returns: "Refunds cannot be given on televisions 24" and larger. In-home service is offered by the manufacturer on large TV's and may be your most convenient option. Defective items may be returned within 30 days of the purchase date (in this case, not “shipping date”) for replacement or upgrade (not “refund”)."
Geeks' return policy begins with the words "All sales are final". However, it does go on to say "Return of non-defective product after the first 30 days from date of purchase are subject to a 15% restocking fee." Geeks did not reply to our email, so the only conclusion we can draw from this apparent contradiction is that returns are at the sole discretion of Geeks. There is no holiday return policy.
It would appear that Geeks' policy prohibits returns on defective higher end items such as computers and televisions. The policy states, "Products sold with a Manufacturer or Direct Warranty must be returned directly to the product manufacturer for repair or replacement. For these items, the warranty policy from the product manufacturer explicitly requires that any returns, repairs etc. be requested and processed directly by the consumer (or "end-user") of the item".
h.h. gregg's general return policy states "All returns must be made within thirty (30) days from the original purchase date". There is no holiday return policy. Online purchases may be returned to stores, but note the use of the term "purchase date" (not "shipping date" or "delivery date").
There do not appear to be any particular restrictions for items such as televisions or computers, but a restocking fee exists, and can apparently be quite costly: "A minimum restocking charge of 20% of the purchase price may apply if all conditions for returning are not met". The policy also states "Any product that was purchased with a mail-in rebate is subject to having the amount of the rebate deducted from the refund amount".
Micro Center appears to have one of the more customer friendly return policies in the mail order business (although Micro Center does have 23 stores, the majority of its business comes from mail order). Micro Center's policy states, "We guarantee your satisfaction on every product we sell with a full refund". Micro Center's general return policy allows for returns within 30 days of the purchase date (not "shipping date" or "delivery date"). There is no holiday return policy. There is no mention of the term "restocking fee" in Micro Center's return policy, and you may return items purchased online to any Micro Center store.
A specific policy exists for computers and other items such as motherboards, which must be returned within 15 days of the purchase date. Interestingly, Micro Center does appear to accept returns of media items such as software, games, and movies. Micro Center's policy states "If you need to return software, a game or a movie, remember that you may not retain any copies — it’s not legal, and it’s not nice". We found no other vendor that does this (most vendors only accept these items if defective, and even then, only for an exchange of the exact same item).
Newegg - updated
Newegg has one of the better reputations for customer service in the mail order technology industry. Still, their policies can be somewhat restrictive when compared to other vendors. Newegg's "Standard Return Policy" requires that returns must be received by Newegg within 30 days of the invoice date (not "shipping date" or "delivery date"). Also, even standard returns are subject to a 15% restocking fee. Newegg's "Iron Egg" holiday return policy improves on this by allowing certain returns or replacements until January 31, 2013, and by waiving certain restocking fees.
Newegg's policy states that you must look for the "Iron Egg logo" on a product's web page to know if the product is covered by an "Iron Egg" holiday return policy. There are three different Iron Egg policies: One accepting returns or replacements with no restocking fee, one accepting replacements only with no restocking fee, and one accepting returns only with a restocking fee. So, be certain that you understand which policy applies to the particular product that you're considering purchasing. Also note that Newegg's policy does restrict returns on some computers. The policy states: "Some computer systems will require pre-authorization from the manufacturer technical support in order for an RMA to Newegg to be authorized".
Target - updated
Target's general return policy states "Most unopened items in new condition returned within 90 days will receive a refund or exchange". When are inquired as to how opened items in new condition are handled, we received the following reply: "Most unopened items in new condition returned within 90 days will receive a refund or exchange. Open music, movies, video games and software cannot be returned, but may be exchanged for the same title, for the same or different gaming platform. Open collectibles (e.g., sports cards, special-edition Barbie dolls, porcelain dolls, action figures and die-cast cars) cannot be returned." Target’s return policy also states that “Most online purchases can be returned to a Target store.” Target does have a holiday return policy.
The general policy for computers allows a 30 day return period. Target's original email to us stating that "Computer hardware (netbooks, tablets, eReaders)… must be returned with 45 days" was incorrect. Target has informed us that the correct policy is the one stated on their web site: "[For] Computers, netbooks, laptops, eReaders, [and] tablets… purchased between 11/1 – 12/25, the 30 day refund period will start on 12/26".
Wal-Mart's general policy allows 90 days for most returns. There do not appear to be any restrictions on opened versus unopened items. Walmart.com items can be returned to Wal-Mart stores. Wal-Mart's holiday return policy apples to specific items including computers.
Computers must normally be returned within 15 days. However, Wal-Mart's holiday return policy states "If you buy an item between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, 2012 that has a normal return policy of 15 or 30 days, we will extend the time you have to make a return by starting to count those days on Dec. 26, 2012".
We've seen quite a bit of variation in return policies for both retail and mail order merchants. Higher end items such as computers, and sometimes televisions, may have special restrictions applied. To avoid making a purchase decision that you might regret, we strongly recommend that you review the return policy of your selected merchant before purchasing. Also, please keep in mind that our look at return policies is not a replacement for your reading the actual return policies posted on merchants’ websites. Shop wisely, and Happy Holidays from Tom's Hardware.