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

Black Friday Shopping
Posted at 9:57 AM, Nov 24, 2022

Shoppers may be eager to find the best deals on Black Friday, but in doing so they could overlook an area where they may get dinged: Product returns.

Six of 10 retailers are changing their returns policies this holiday season, according to a recent survey of 500 retailers by goTRG, a return management provider.

Those changes generally aren't in the consumer's favor, with many stores shortening the returns period while adding restocking and online return fees, goTRG CEO Sender Shamiss said.

These changes may surprise some shoppers who grew used to the generous returns policies common during the pandemic when retailers eased their guidelines to give consumers more breathing room.

For instance, Kohl's and Bloomingdale's extended their returns windows in 2020 by an additional 30 and 90 days, respectively.

But retailers are now dealing with an overload of inventory and a slowing economy, causing some to tighten their policies. The bottom line for shoppers on Black Friday: Check the return policy before buying to avoid an unwelcome surprise, experts say.

"Now retailers are saying, 'We're not interested if customers are going to cause 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 are making sure their policies serve their businesses to the best way possible."

Shorter window at Amazon

Among the changes this year at big retailers: Amazon, which says customers who purchased items between October 11 and December 25 can return them through January 31, 2023. That's a shorter window than last year, when buyers could return items bought between October 1 and December 31, 2021, through January 31, 2022.

Some retailers are now charging customers for online returns, although they won't typically charge for items brought back to brick-and-mortar locations.

That can help lower costs for the retailers, while also encouraging more people to visit a store, where they might be tempted to purchase additional items while making a return.

"The low-hanging fruit is changing the return policy," Shamiss said. "As e-commerce matures, they are starting to claw back these extremely liberal policies that existed for returns."

H&M, for instance, charges a U.S. 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 start testing online return fees in some European markets as well.

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

"We got used to these insanely long return policies" during the pandemic, Shamiss said. "None of that exists anymore."

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