Finances & Debt

Return the Right Way — and Get Your Money Back

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The return process shouldn’t be such a hassle that you eventually give up, wasting both your time and money. The good news is that most businesses want to keep you a happy, returning customer. If getting your money back isn’t turning out to be as easy as you expected, there are several strategies for exercising your consumer rights.

First ask, “Is it covered?”

This is probably the first thing to consider if you want a return an item or a refund for a service (that and making sure you kept the receipt — or gift receipt — for it!). Most new consumer products today are covered by a warranty. A warranty (also called a guarantee) is an assurance about the quality of goods or services you buy. Its purpose is to give you recourse if something you purchase fails to live up to what you were promised.

It’s important to note that each retail store has the right to set its own policy on refunds and exchanges. None are legally required to give you back your money, and it’s rare to find one that will accept a return without receipt. But all should provide return instructions clearly on the store website and/or your receipt. Always consider the company's reputation and return policy before you buy.

It’s busted. What can you do?

If you feel that you can’t get a refund or return in the way you think it should be offered and have hit a brick wall, you have a few ways to take action:

  • First, contact customer service. Talk to a real person — someone who has the authority to help you. Explain the situation calmly – why you're disappointed and what you'd like done about it. Do it as soon as possible because some stores have time limits on returns and refunds.
  • Use social media to file a complaint. Many companies have monitors to respond directly to you. Again, use a reasonable tone and explain the issue clearly. To avoid negative perceptions, many companies will respond quickly and favorably.
  • Write a letter. Be clear and concise. State exactly what you want done and how long you're willing to wait for a response. Include copies of relevant docs like receipts or photos of shabby product.
  • Enlist the help of an attorney. Find an experienced professional who practices in the area of consumer protection and someone who can clearly outline your next steps, provide guidance and work in your best interest. He or she should also be able to determine if going to small claims court is a viable option for your situation. 

If all else fails, you may want to contact your local Better Business Bureau or file a complaint with your state consumer agency.  You can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint. The FTC does not resolve individual complaints, but your complaint helps law enforcement detect patterns of wrong-doing and may lead to an investigation.

Shopping online? Here’s what you should know.

With eight out of 10 Americans shopping online, it’s no secret that people enjoy the experience of click, ship and receive. But that experience can get tainted when you realize the online return process for the site you just bought from is a lot more difficult than advertised, or worse yet, there is no return process. How do you work it out when buying — and returning — items in cyberspace?

First, online retailers should provide return instructions on the site or on your receipt. Before you click “buy now” it’s wise to consider the company’s reputation and return policy before you buy.

Make sure they don’t have a history of lost returns, failure to issue credits in a timely fashion, etc. Also, determine if the retailer pays for shipping on returned items. Some retailers who promote free returns have streamlined the process right down to the return shipping label. Others may even offer an online return center. And many retailer websites include FAQs that help you understand the details behind their return policy.

Most online stores will also only accept returns of un-used and unopened items. If you use the item at all, chances are that you will not be able to return it. In many cases, if it is clothing, you must keep the tags on the clothing in order to return the purchase. The online business will usually pay for the return shipping if the error was theirs, meaning that they sent you an incorrect or damaged item.

Whether you’re returning something in the store or online, always remember that it‘s in the best interests of retailers to make it right when they can, and that you have consumer rights you can exercise if you feel you are not being treated fairly.

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