Returning Consumer Purchases

It is not true that consumers have a right to return almost anything they buy in a store. Although there are laws to protect consumers who buy defective products or who are led to make purchases based on misleading advertising, there is generally no rule or law that absolutely requires merchants to offer refunds, exchanges or credits on the items they sell.

There are four basic principles customers should know about returning goods they purchase in a store:

  1. Merchants can set their own policies on refunds and exchanges. Generally, consumers are not entitled to either a refund or an exchange.
  2. Although merchants are not required to do it, many of them will exchange non-sale items whether customers paid for them with cash, check, or credit.
  3. Sale items are commonly exempt from merchants’ refund and exchange policies.
  4. If customers exchange a product for another one that costs less, the store can require the customers to spend the difference in cost in their store.

Because it makes their stores more attractive to customers, most retailers do offer refunds, exchanges, or credits voluntarily, although they usually impose a “reasonable time” condition for these refunds, exchanges, or credits. These kinds of policies have become so common that people have come to expect them. When retail sellers fail to post notices to the contrary, consumers often wrongly assume that the return, refund, or exchange policy exists. Therefore, before customers make a purchase at a store, try to determine the store’s refund policy because these exchange privileges vary from merchant to merchant. A copy of a store’s return policy should be posted near cash registers; they are also frequently printed on sales receipts.

Before making a retail purchase, it is a good idea to find out the following:

  • The store’s return policy
  • The store’s exchange policy
  • Whether the store will refund customers’ money if they return a product
  • Whether sales are final (this is especially important for goods that have been marked down)
  • How the store’s normal return policy is affected if customers have to sign a contract to buy the product,
  • If customers are prevented from returning a damaged product if the product came with a separate written warranty.

Most stores that have a refund and/or exchange policy require that the item be returned within a specific time. These periods vary considerably from one merchant to the next, but most will be in the range of about seven to 90 days. The product usually must be in new condition, with the original packaging, and with the original sales receipts. There are a few retailers that will accept goods returned in any condition, at any time, and with no questions asked, but liberal return policies like these are very rare.


Inside Returning Consumer Purchases