BBB Cautions: Refunds and Exchanges are a Privilege Not a Right for Consumers

Returns and exchanges are common, but the BBB cautions consumers that these actions are privileges a business provides, and not a consumer’s right.

“If you find yourself with an unwanted gift, many stores will allow refunds or exchanges for the sake of good customer relations,” explains Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois.  “However, customers need to remember these actions are privileges stores may allow. They are not consumer rights.” 
Bernas urges that no matter whether the item was purchased in a brick-and-mortar store or online, it is wise look up and understand the return policies to avoid surprises and confusion. Here are several tips and hints to make the process easier for all involved.
·         The most important first step is to determine where the item was purchased.  If you have a gift receipt, it makes the return situation much easier.  However, if you don’t have a receipt, you need to prove that the item was purchased at a given store.  Another more basic issue is the question of whether or not the store will take back the item for either a refund or exchange without proof of purchase.
·         Refund and exchange policies differ. Each store, and in some cases different departments within stores, may have varying refund and exchange policies.  These can depend upon the product or usage.  Policies about returns and exchanges are usually available from the cashiers, stated on the sales slip, or available online. 
·         Expect to pay some fees.  Return shipping charges are common.  You may also be subject to restocking fees.  Again, it pays to know the store’s policy ahead of time.
·         Time limits may apply.  Many times stores have a time limit on how long you can keep an item and still return it.  This is usually stated on the receipt or on the company’s website.
·         Unsure, ask the gift giver. If you are not certain where the gift you want to return was purchased or if you don’t have a receipt, ask the gift giver where the item was purchased.  If that person has a receipt, perhaps they could exchange it for you.  If this isn’t possible for personal reasons, you unfortunately have a dilemma.  You can try to return it to the store where you believe the item was purchased.  However, they do not have to accept it back for either a refund or an exchange. 
“When questioning a return or exchange policy, look at the situation from the store’s perspective, Bernas noted. “How does that retailer know that the gift was purchased there?  What evidence do you have that you aren’t trying to cheat the store?” 
And Bernas noted that not all stores have liberal refund and exchange policies.  Many have strict requirements about what can be returned and the timeframe of when it can be returned.  Also, some stores are charging a restocking fee even if you do have a receipt. 
“Companies with liberal return policies recognize the customer relations value of them,” he explained.  However, for them to continue these policies, it’s best not to abuse the privilege.  An example of abuse would be purchasing six or seven similar items to try on, recognizing that you will only be keeping one of them.  This type of product prospecting abuses the privilege the store offers to its customers with its exchange and refund policy.” 

ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2014, people turned to BBB more than 165 million times for BBB Business Reviews on more than 4.7 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at The Council of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for 113 local, independent BBBs in the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as home to its national programs on dispute resolution, advertising review, and industry self-regulation.