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

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

According to a recent survey of 500 retailers by goTRG, a returns management provider, six out of 10 retailers are changing their return policies this holiday season. Those changes are generally not in the consumer’s favor, said GotRG CEO Sender Shamis, with many stores shortening the return period, while adding restocking and online return fees.

These changes may surprise some shoppers who have become used to generous return policies during the pandemic, when retailers relaxed their guidelines to give consumers more breathing room. For example, Kohl’s and Bloomingdale’s have extended their return windows to 30 and 90 days, respectively, in 2020.

but retailers are now dealing with a inventory overload and a slowing economy, which caused some to tighten their policies. The bottom line for shoppers on Black Friday: Check the return policy before making a purchase to avoid unpleasant surprises, experts say.

“Now retailers are saying, ‘We’re not interested if customers are going to have this crazy return nightmare that we can’t afford,'” Shamis said.

He said retail executives are concerned about the strength of the economy “and making sure their policies best serve their businesses.”

small window on amazon

Among the changes this year at big retailers: Amazon, which says customers who bought items between October 11 and December 25 can return them until January 31, 2023. From December 31, 2021 to January 31, 2022.

Some retailers are now charging customers for online returns, although they typically won’t charge for items returned at brick-and-mortar locations. This can help reduce costs for retailers, as well as encourage more people to visit a store, where they may be tempted to purchase additional items when making a return.

“The low-hanging fruit is changing the return policy,” Shamis said. “As e-commerce matures, they’re starting to roll back these very lenient policies on returns.”

H&M, for example, charges a US return shipping fee of $5.99, which is deducted from the customer’s refund when they return the item. The store noted that the policy isn’t new, but it may have begun testing online return fees in some European markets as well.

Zara began charging $3.95 for online returns earlier this year, though it doesn’t charge when consumers return online purchases at a brick-and-mortar location.

“We’ve gotten used to these insanely long refund policies during the pandemic,” Shamees said. “None of it exists anymore.”

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