For Immediate Release - December 15, 2010

Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation Warns Consumers Return Fees Can Lead to Post-Holiday Blues

Consumers urged to check for possible charges before making purchases

BOSTON - December 15, 2010 - Consumers should check a retailer's return policies before buying big-ticket items, especially electronics, or they could find themselves losing a significant amount of money in restocking fees, the Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation advised today.

The Office of Consumer Affairs checked return and restocking policies for 21 retailers by checking policies online and calling retailers, and found that home electronics like televisions, computers and video games are the most popular items to generate a fee.

A restocking fee is usually a percentage of the purchase price, and is subtracted from the refund when an item is returned. Many retailers charge a restocking fee of 15 percent, and on a $600 laptop, for example, a 15 percent restocking fee would be $90. Retailers use the fees as a way to recoup costs of selling returned items at a discount as "open box" items. The fees also are a deterrent to return fraud, such as when a consumer buys a video camera on Friday for weekend use and then returns it on Monday.

"Returning an item is often the last thing on a consumer's mind when they are buying a gift, but as restocking fees become more prevalent the rules regarding returns are becoming must-know information," said Barbara Anthony, the Undersecretary of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. "Checking a retailer's return policy before buying an item can save you money and unpleasant surprises."

A retailer's return policy must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed before the purchase is completed, according to state law. At many stores, the policy is displayed at the service desk or at the checkout counter. Most retailers also print their policies on the back of a receipt.

The Office of Consumer Affairs did a similar review of return and restocking policies last year. In both years, electronics and furniture (particularly mattresses) are the categories most likely to be targeted by fees. Many of the retailers checked this year were also checked last year, and the only significant change was at Office Max, which in the last year instituted a restocking fee for some electronics.

Of the 21 retailers surveyed, eight have restocking fee policies in place. Another four stores have policies in place that decrease or eliminate a refund on a returned item if there is a delay in returning the item or the packaging has been opened.

Consumers are urged to research potential fees before buying items and know ahead of time whether or not a fee might be attached if a gift is returned. Also, gift recipients should avoid opening a box if it's possible the gift might be returned. Generally, unopened items are not subject to restocking fees.

For a complete list of retailers checked by the survey and the policies at those retailers, click here pdf format of Results of 2010 Restocking Fee Survey

The Patrick-Murray Administration's Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education, and also works to ensure that the businesses its agencies regulate treat all Massachusetts consumers fairly. Follow the Office at its blog, Consumer Connections, and on Twitter, @Mass_Consumer.