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Ten tips

How to return items purchased online

Shopping online can be fast, easy and convenient, but returning items purchased on the Internet can sometimes be a major hassle. Before you make your next online purchase, arm yourself with the following tips.

By Times staff writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 5, 2003

1. Know the return policy. Return policies can be hard to find, so you may need to do quite a bit of navigating on retailers' Web sites. If you can't locate the policy, send an e-mail message to the retailer, or make a phone call.

2. Act fast. Online return policies vary widely, from consumer friendly to ultradraconian. You'll find that many Web sites have exacting time limits for returns. If you plan to make a return, alert the retailer about your intentions via e-mail.

3. Determine how to proceed. Some Web sites will allow you to return merchandise the old-fashion way: at a retail store location. Others mandate that you use a particular mailing service such as FedEx or UPS to return the item.

4. Brace yourself for fees. Most online retailers charge restocking fees or shipping-and-handling fees on returned items. They'll usually waive such fees if there was a problem with the merchandise. You should also ask to have the fees waived if you are a regular customer or you bought the item using the retailer's credit card.

5. The original packaging matters. If you receive an online purchase in the mail and you know you have no intention of keeping it, don't open the box or break the manufacturer's seal. If the box has been opened, return all parts, packaging materials and manuals in the original box. The goal is to avoid triggering hefty restocking fees.

6. Save important documentation. Hang on to the confirmation e-mail message you receive from the retailer after you've placed your order, as well as the shipping invoice that comes in the box with your purchase. You're likely to need both if you make a return.

7. Read the fine print on your shipping invoice. The retailer may not accept your return unless you write a "return authorization number" on the mailing label. You may have to make repeated phone calls to the company to track that number down.

8. Enclose a letter with your return. The letter should include your order number, your request for a refund, your credit card number and your phone number.

9. Review your credit card statement. It can take up to six weeks for the retailer to give you credit for your return. If you don't receive credit within two months, call the retailer. If you receive less credit than the purchase price, you likely were charged a restocking fee of 15 percent to 20 percent of the item's cost.

10. If you have a complaint, try dealing with the retailer directly. If that does not help, you can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau at 1-800-955-5100 and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at 1-800-435-7352.

-- Compiled by Laura T. Coffey. Sources: Better Homes and Gardens (; Better Business Bureau (

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