What is a Return Policy?

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

If you've ever made an impulsive purchase you later regretted, you understand how important it is to learn about a store's return policy. Although keeping customers happy is one of the basic goals of any retail business, return policies can vary significantly among different companies. Since it costs money to deal with returned merchandise, companies try to strike a balance between customer satisfaction and maximizing profits.

Most online retailers will refund money on returned purchases directly to a credit or debit card.
Most online retailers will refund money on returned purchases directly to a credit or debit card.

While many stores once allowed returns with no receipt, they ran into problems with people trying to return stolen merchandise for cash or exchanging items that were purchased from a different company. If the store offers frequent sales, it's also quite difficult to determine how much you originally paid for the item with no receipt. If you lost your receipt, however, you may be able to have the store look up your purchase on their computer system or request that the manager make an exception for your return. If the item is defective, the return policy should allow more leeway than if you simply changed your mind about a purchase.

Some retailers pay for the cost of return shipping, but some do not.
Some retailers pay for the cost of return shipping, but some do not.

The type of merchandise you purchased may affect whether or not it can be returned. It's quite common for stores that sell electronics to only allow for returns within a one or two week period, even if they allow 60-90 days for returning other items. With DVDs, CDs, video games, and computer software, it's standard for stores to only allow an exchange for the same item if the package has been opened. For clothing, items will need to still have the original tags and be in new condition. There are some stores that will allow you to return opened cosmetics if you find the product doesn't suit your needs, but others will only accept items that are still in the original packaging.

How you receive a refund for your returned items can vary by company as well. If you paid with a credit card, you may be required to have the purchase refunded back onto the card. In some circumstances, the return policy may say you are only eligible for store credit regardless of how you originally paid for the item.

When shopping online, read the site's return policy carefully before you make your purchase. Some Web sites send prepaid shipping labels for returns, while others require you to pay for the cost of mailing back unwanted items. Stores with physical locations may have an online return policy that accepts returns at the store itself or they may require you to mail back your unwanted items.

Return policies might be emailed when orders are placed online.
Return policies might be emailed when orders are placed online.
Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders

Dana holds a B.A. in journalism and mass communication from the University of Iowa. She has loved being part of the wiseGEEK team ever since discovering the joys of freelance writing after her son was born. Dana also hones her writing skills by contributing articles to various blogs, as well as creating sales copy and content for e-courses.

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