FOR the Customer
The presents have been unwrapped, the toys and clothing set aside. Now, the adjustments, returns, refund and exchange processes begin.
Better Business Bureau accredited businesses stand for trust and will make every effort to do the right thing when dealing with exchanges, refunds and returns. As a customer, it's important for you to remember that a store is not obligated to accept items for refund, exchange, or credit unless the item is defective or was misrepresented. These policies are a business owner’s prerogative, not a right. If you have problems you can file a complaint with the BBB.
Before you take a gift back to a retail store, consider the following:
Familiarize yourself with stores’ policies – The terms, conditions, requirements and restrictions can vary widely, even within a chain. Some may allow a return for no reason at all at any time. Returns policies are usually prominently displayed at the checkout counter or on online sellers’ websites. Print out a copy for your records. Most small business and specialty shops will not issue cash refunds.
Online gift returns may come at a cost – Shipping costs for returns to online vendors are usually borne by the person making the exchange. If you buy an item from a retailer’s online catalog, find out whether the gift can be returned directly to the store.
Proof of Purchase and Packaging – At the very least, a receipt is usually required to return a gift. Keep all original packaging and accessories. If the gift is being returned in a sealed or hard shell package that has been opened, such as an electronic gadget, the store may impose a re-stocking or “open box” fee of anywhere between one percent and 50 percent of its value, because the items cannot be re-sold as new. The highest re-stocking charges are usually associated with made-to-order items.
Don’t wait too long - While it is not necessary to run out to the store the day after you receive an unwanted gift, many stores have a limited time frame from the date of purchase during which you may return an item. Ask about the length of the grace period for gift returns.
You may require identification - A driver’s permit is the most common type of identification needed for a return or exchange, however, other forms of ID may be accepted, along with your name, address and telephone number to complete the return.
The Cooling-Off Rule - The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Cooling-Off Rule allows consumers to return items over $25 within three days of purchase. However, this applies to sales at a location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business. Exemptions and other information about the Cooling-Off Rule are available on the FTC website.
If you run into a problem with a return at the customer service desk, ask to speak with a supervisor. In addition, merchants may be able to accommodate loyal customers, or customers with a credit account.
If you have problems you can file a complaint with the BBB.
Orders through catalogs, mail order, TV shopping networks or online – Online venues have different policies than retailers. Merchandise broken or damaged in delivery may only be discovered after it's unwrapped. Most shipping companies have clear policies on filing claims. For delivery problems, look at the tracking slip, the company's website and customer service contact numbers.
If consumers experience mail order or credit-card problems, the FTC recommends that they first contact the retailer or the card issuer and attempt to resolve the problem. If that does not work, contact the local Better Business Bureau or local and state consumer protection offices.
For mail order, contact either the U.S. Postal Service or the Direct Marketing Association, an industry-sponsored organization. The Association can be reached at 11 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036-8096; 212-768-7277.
The FTC also is interested in hearing from consumers. Although the agency does not intervene in individual disputes, information from consumers relating their experiences is vital to the agency’s law enforcement efforts. Consumers may address their complaints to the Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.
For the business owner:
In the marketplace where millions of transactions are made daily, a fair refund and exchange policy is an effective sales tool as advertising, promotion, and merchandising. By taking constructive action, a business can turn customer discontent into greater customer loyalty.
Successful retailers agree that, in the long run, business profits are tightly tied to the company's ability to satisfy the customer. While a store may take the stance that all sales are final, such as, the desire for good customer relations generally dictates that an exchange or refund program be in effect. Following are some useful guidelines for setting up a system to handle refunds, exchanges, and returns.
Company management first must decide on a refund/exchange policy. In making this decision, consider the company's suppliers and their "take back" policies, manufacturers' warranties, and service center set-ups. State and federal laws also enter the policy picture, and the laws should be checked out with your company attorney. When finished, the detailed policy probably will be a blend of policies; yours, the suppliers, and the laws that govern refunds, exchanges, returns, warranties, and service contracts.
Although the "blend" mentioned above sounds complicated, your policy should be reduced to its simplest form so both company employees and customers quickly and easily understand it.
A "No Quibble" or "Satisfaction Guaranteed or Your Money Back" policy is ideal. This may not be possible in your business, but the policy should be kept simple, understandable, and as consistent as possible.
Use your policy in advertising and post it in your stores for everyone to see. Print it and use it as a bill stuffer from time to time. Not only does this remind your customers that they can count on your company, it helps prevent misunderstandings from arising and can help resolve them when they do occur. Many retailers set aside a special area or station to handle bring-backs and make it accessible to customers.
It is important that employees be instructed to stick with the policy and not make oral promises as to exchanges, returns, refunds, and warranties that are inconsistent with the policy.
Do instruct employees to remind customers to save receipts should merchandise need to be returned. A cashier often does this procedure at the checkout counter, although salespersons store wide also should mention receipt-saving if, in the employee's judgment, an exchange might be possible. Whenever possible receipts, they, should carry information on your refund and exchange policy.
Better Business Bureau's role in consumer complaint handling
BBB is always available to answer questions about exchange, return or refund policies. BBB's policy is that consumers first must attempt to resolve any dispute directly with the business involved. If the matter cannot be resolved, BBB will attempt to bring about a resolution using conciliation and arbitration techniques.