Black Friday: Watch out for shorter return windows and restocking fees

Black Friday: Watch out for shorter return windows and restocking fees

  • Business
  • November 24, 2022
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Shoppers may be eager to find the best deals on Black Friday, but in doing so they may be overlooking an area where they may be disadvantaged: product returns.

According to a recent survey by returns management provider goTRG, six out of 10 retailers are changing their return policies this holiday season. These changes are generally not for the benefit of consumers, as many stores are reducing return times while charging restocking and online return fees, said goTRG CEO Sender Shamiss.

These changes may surprise some shoppers who have grown accustomed to the generous return policies common during the pandemic, when retailers relaxed their policies to give consumers more breathing room. For example, Kohl’s and Bloomingdale’s extended their return windows in 2020 by an additional 30 and 90 days, respectively.

But retailers are now grappling with overstocking and a slowing economy, prompting some to tighten their policies. The bottom line for Black Friday shoppers: Check return policies before you buy to avoid an unwelcome surprise, experts say.

“Now retailers are saying, ‘We’re not interested in customers creating this crazy returns nightmare that we can’t afford,'” Shamiss said.

He added that retail executives are concerned about the strength of the economy “and making sure their policies best serve their businesses.”

Shorter window on Amazon

Changes this year at major retailers include: Amazon, which says customers who bought items between October 11 and December 25 have until January 31, 2023 to return them. That’s a shorter window than last year, when buyers could return items purchased between October 1 and December 31, 2021 through January 31, 2022.

Some retailers are now charging customers for online returns, although they typically don’t charge for items returned to brick-and-mortar locations. This can help reduce costs for retailers while also encouraging more people to visit a store where they may be tempted to purchase additional items while making a return.

“The low-hanging fruit changes the return policy,” Shamiss said. “As e-commerce matures, they’re starting to reclaim those extremely permissive policies that existed for returns.”

For example, H&M charges a US return shipping fee of $5.99 that is deducted from a customer’s refund when they return an item. The store noted that the policy isn’t new, but it may also start testing online return fees in some European markets.

Zara started charging $3.95 for online returns earlier this year, although it doesn’t charge a fee when consumers return online purchases to a brick-and-mortar location.

“We’ve gotten used to these insanely long return policies during the pandemic,” Shamiss said. “None of that exists anymore.”

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