UPS expects to ship over 800,000 packages back to retailers on January 6th, a day the company has dubbed National Returns Day. According to the UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper Study conducted in 2014, 62% of consumers returned at least one item ordered online last year, an increase of 11% since 2012.
With online shopping reaching an all-time high this past holiday season, it’s no surprise the number of online returns are also rising. So whether you’re unsatisfied with the item or there was a defect, follow these tips to get the most back from your return.
Find a physical store: Many stores will accept online purchases in-store, allowing you to dodge return shipping fees and receive the full value of the item as either a refund or merchandise credit. Kohl’s, Macy’s, Best Buy, Sports Authority and more all accept in-store returns of online merchandise, and many retailers offer extended return periods for holiday purchases. For example, items purchased between November 1st and December 31st from Sports Authority can be returned through January 31st.
Know receipt-less options: Holding onto receipts and packing slips is always a smart idea, but some retailers are making it easier to return without the purchase documents. Before you turn your house upside down for a purchase slip, consider this: Walmart gives cash refunds for receipt-less purchases of $25 or less; Target customers can return without a receipt by simply providing the credit or debit card used to make the original purchase; Kohl’s Card holders can have orders pulled using their account numbers; Anthropologie associates can access Internet orders by entering the shopper’s loyalty card data; and price tags on merchandise from Nordstrom and Macy’s have UPC codes that are tied to your payment method, enabling sale associates to scan the barcode of the item to find your purchase information.
Talk to customer service: Return shipping fees are a pain, but not all store policies are set in stone. For example, a friend of mine recently ordered red and white wine glasses from a popular home goods store and wasn’t satisfied with the appearance of the white wine glasses. I suggested she contact customer service to request a free return shipping label since she wasn’t pleased with the product. She followed my advice and received a FedEx prepaid mailing label to her inbox. While this method isn’t a sure thing, you have much better odds of getting what you want when you simply ask, especially if you are displeased with the quality of the goods!
Stick with an exchange: Many stores like DSW offer free return shipping for direct exchanges. Macy’s and Kohl’s offer in-store exchanges for merchandise purchased online, and The Limited waives shipping fees on exchanges an even offers quicker turnaround for such orders through their Rapid Exchange Service. Ultimately, stores view exchanges more favorably than returns and often make it easier and cheaper for customers to replace an unwanted item with something more desirable. Review the store’s return policy for specifics on exchanges, or chat with a live customer service rep for more detailed information.
Get cash for merchandise credit: When returning a gift, you often receive a merchandise credit or gift card in exchange. This works out great if the gift came from a store you like. If you’re not interested in anything the retailer offers, don’t fret: you can exchange your merchandise gift card for cash. GiftCardGranny.com and other sites like this make it easy to sell your gift cards and receive payment via check, PayPal or even Amazon gift cards in some cases. You can get back up to 92% of the gift card value, which is much better than holding onto one you never intend to spend!
Compare rates & prepare your package: If you are responsible for return shipping fees, don’t just return the item with the same carrier used by the store. Instead, quickly compare shipping rates at Office Depot’s shipping center. They can give you the cheapest method and carrier for your return so you don’t have to pay any more than necessary. Also be sure to remove previous shipping labels and include the return form in the package to expedite the return process. Keep in mind, some online stores require the item be returned in the original box it was received in, so review the policy before sending. For example, Zappos requires returns to be sent back in the original box or packaging in order to qualify for free return shipping.
Verify the refund: If you fail to review your bank account or credit card for the online refund, you may be missing out on the credit. Recently, I realized a gift I returned to Nordstrom was refunded back to the person who gave it to me instead of to my own store account. In another situation, a return made to Anthropologie was accidentally repurchased and resulted in a double charge for an item I sent back. Had I not reviewed my statement, I would have missed these two mistakes! In other situations, stores like Toys ‘R Us and Babies ‘R Us state the refund will be applied to the purchaser’s original form of payment only. In these instances, it’s better to return the item in store for a merchandise credit, exchange it for something you’d rather have or hold onto it for regifting later in the year.
Consider regifting it: If you don’t want to pay those return shipping fees and can’t find anything you want in exchange, hold onto the item to use as a re-gift. The item itself might be great for a friend or family member’s upcoming birthday, or look ahead to a summer wedding and exchange the product for an item you can give as a gift. This represents a great way to save money on an upcoming expense while putting an otherwise unwanted item to good use.
Sell it yourself: Not all unwanted online orders can be returned. Whether you missed the return deadline or the item was marked final sale, it doesn’t mean you have to be stuck with something you’ll never use. Take your chance at selling the goods yourself online via sites like eBay or Craigslist. Review similar products and brands others sold to determine the best price and take good pictures to boost views. Aside from these popular online marketplaces, you can sell gadgets at NextWorth.com and clothes or accessories at thredUp.com.
Andrea Woroch is a nationally-recognized shopping expert for Kinoli Inc., who helps consumers live on less without radically changing their lifestyles. From smart spending tips to personal finance advice, Andrea transforms everyday consumers into savvy shoppers. She has been featured among top news outlets such as Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, MSNBC, New York Times, Kiplinger Personal Finance, CNNMoney and many more. For more information, visit AndreaWoroch.com or follow her on Twitter for daily savings advice and tips.