For Immediate Release - December 15, 2009

Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Warns Holiday Shoppers of Costly Restocking Fees

Electronics and furniture returns most likely to trigger restocking fees

BOSTON - December 15, 2009 - During the busy holiday shopping season, shoppers are being advised to check retailers' return policies carefully because more and more sellers online and off are imposing costly restocking fees on returned goods, according to a survey released today by the Patrick Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.

The survey of popular retailers' and etailers' policies as stated on their websites, conducted between Nov. 25 and Dec. 1, revealed that fully half of the 39 sellers surveyed impose restocking fees on at least some categories of items, typically certain electronics and furniture.

A restocking fee is a charge deducted from the purchase price when an item is returned, resulting in a partial refund. A $300 product with a 15 percent restocking fee would be subject to a $45 deduction, netting the customer a refund of only $255. Restocking fees are employed by sellers to help to recoup costs of selling returned items at a discount as "open box" items, and to help reduce return fraud, such as when shoppers buy a camcorder on a Friday for weekend use, and then return it on Monday.

"Consumers have been used to liberal return policies that provide 100 percent refunds when an item is returned, but we found more and more exceptions to the rule and that may come as a costly surprise to shoppers who did not check the store's policy in advance," said Barbara Anthony, Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.

In the survey, restocking fees ranged from 10 to 60 percent, but typically were in the 10 to 25 percent range. Fees tended to be imposed on opened electronics such as digital cameras, camcorders, computers, portable music devices, as well as on cancelled special orders and returned mattresses.

Sellers with the highest restocking fees on certain categories of items included Amazon.com with 50 percent restocking fees on worn books and opened DVDs. Overstock.com has a sliding scale that can reach 60 percent or more depending on how long it takes for the consumer to return the item and the condition of the item when it is returned. Sleepy's, a mattress store, has a $149 to $399 fee for exchanging and redelivering a mattress. Some retailers, like Lowe's, Kohl's, and Bed, Bath and Beyond, have no restocking fees.

Some stores' policies, like Brookstone and BJ's, noted that restocking fees might be imposed but did not specify the amount, thus making it impossible for shoppers to know what to expect.

State consumer law requires sellers to clearly and conspicuously disclose their return policies, including restocking fees, before the transaction is consummated. Typically that means a sign must be posted in stores, and an easily located return policy must be available for review online in the case of web sales.

"Shoppers should check the seller's return policy before making a purchase to understand if a restocking fee might apply; and for gift recipients, the best advice is don't break that factory seal on electronics if there is any chance you may want to return or exchange the item," said Anthony.

Although a store may not have a restocking fee, consumers should not jump to the conclusion that all items are returnable because many are not, cautioned Consumer Affairs.

Below is a list of some of the restocking fees found in the survey. For a full list of the 39 retailers and their policies (which in some cases includes separate in-store and online policies), please visit Results of 2009 Restocking Fee Survey pdf format of Results of 2009 Restocking Fee Survey
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Store Restocking Fee Applicable Categories
Amazon.com15 to 50 percentOpen computers (15 percent); worn books, open DVDs, CDs, software (50 percent)
Apple Store10 percentAll non-defective items in open boxes
Best Buy10 to 25 percentiPhones (10 percent); open laptops, cameras, GPS (15 percent); special orders (25 percent)
Cardi's Furniture$149 or 10 percentIf return is allowed, fee is applied
Dell.comUp to 15 percentAll non-defective returns
Macy's10 percentFurniture and mattresses
Mattress Giant$169.99Mattress exchange fee
Microcenter15 percentAll open items
Sears15 percentSome open electronics, mattresses, built-in appliances, special orders
Sleepy's$149 to $399Mattress exchange fee based on size
Target15 percentCamcorders, digital cameras, portable electronics