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Don't let a `refund' leave you out of pocket

Henri May
by Lovemoney Staff Henri May on 18 October 2011  |  Comments 17 comments

Watch out for the increasing trend of shops to charge `restocking fees' which could leave you out of pocket.

Don't let a `refund' leave you out of pocket

Shopping: pleasure or pain? Whether it’s a relaxing diversion, an adrenalin inducing buzz or a chore to be endured, you have to keep your wits about you.

You may have relaxed into the knowledge that if you make a mistake while shopping, it doesn’t matter. Most outlets let you return goods for any reason for a full refund.

But what if you’re penalised for changing your mind? Restocking fees are sneaking in to traders’ terms leaving all but the canniest devourers of small print with an unwelcome surprise. You might find you get only 80 – 90% of the value of the goods back with the rest retained for ‘restocking’.

Bad decisions

Although we may believe we can always get our money back when we shop on the high street, the first thing to be clear of is that the law doesn’t extend to changing our minds.

If something doesn’t fit, you discover a better deal elsewhere or you have any other reason for returning a working item, legally a retailer is under no obligation to reimburse you if you bought it in-store. (Different rules apply online - see Buy on the internet, below.)

Despite this, the law will always step in to protect you if an item is not up to scratch, regardless of where you buy it. Your protection under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 is extensive when it comes to goods which don’t meet their description, are not fit for their purpose (including any specific purpose agreed with the seller) or are faulty.

The small print

When a shop allows you to return an unwanted item that’s not defective, it’s actually extending your legal rights, so it’s entitled to introduce additional terms about credit notes, time limits and restocking fees etc.

Crucially, the retailer’s policy on returning goods should be clearly displayed so you’re fully aware of any unfavourable terms before committing yourself. The terms must be accessible and accurate or there may be an argument you’ve been misled.

The question “do you offer refunds?” needs to be tweaked to “do you offer full refunds?” and don’t accept a waffly answer (“sort of” being the kind of response you want to avoid). To be safe, check the written terms as well as asking.

Expect a variety of conditions. For example, if you change your mind about an item from Comet that you bought in-store, you can get your money back if you’re content to just gaze at the box. But as soon as you open the item, you’re throwing away 10% of the cost if you don’t like what you find.

Meanwhile, if you buy certain tiles from Topps Tiles - which they class as ‘special order’ tiles - you will incur a restocking charge of 20% of the price.

However, despite these charges being perfectly legal in-store, they should not apply if you buy these items online and return them in perfect condition within seven days.

Why?

Buying on the internet

When you buy at a distance, (e.g. over the phone or on the internet), the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 give you a ‘cooling off’ period during which you can legally change your mind and get a full refund.

You don’t have long to cancel though – normally from the minute you make the order until seven working days after you receive the goods.

Cancel within this period, and as long as:

  • the goods aren’t personalised or perishable,
  • it’s not a newspaper or magazine
  • it’s not a CD, DVD or computer software where the security seal has been broken
  • you didn’t buy it from an online auction like eBay
  • the service didn’t start immediately (eg paid access to a website)

...then you will be entitled to a refund - no matter what the terms and conditions of the individual retailer state.

However, you’ve still got to be on the ball. Although an online business is not entitled to charge you a restocking fee, you may find yourself out of pocket for the cost of sending the item back. Unless at item is faulty, not what you ordered or a substitute item, a business doesn’t have to pay for return delivery.

One way to get around this is to return the item to a local branch of the retailer. But be prepared to do battle with the store manager, who may not have heard of the Distance Selling Regulations. Print out this article - or this page of the Direct.gov.uk website - and take it with you!

More small print

Yes it’s dull and life may be too short but make friends with small print and it might just save you money. If the online supplier wants you to be responsible for the cost of return delivery, they have to let you know in information supplied before you buy from them.

If a restocking fee is going to bite you, shop around. Plenty of shops have very generous returns policies.

Name and shame restocking fee retailers!

Here at lovemoney.com, we think charging 10% to 20% of the price of an item returned in perfect condition is completely outrageous. But what do you think? Is it reasonable for businesses to charge this fee if they genuinely do incur restocking costs?

And if you’ve recently come across any retailers which have started charging a restocking fee, we want to hear about it! Please name and shame them using the comments box below.

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Comments (17)

  • Poorpensioner
    Love rating 36
    Poorpensioner said

    "But what if you’re penalised for changing your mind?"

    Why shouldn't you be "penalised" for changing your mind?

    Report on 20 October 2011  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • oldhenry
    Love rating 343
    oldhenry said

    i think you ae lucky to get anything back for changing your mind. try that at a cardealer and see what happens. you may get back 70%after one day,s use.

    the answer is do not buy on impulse but check out all the options first. Only buy anything if you have to anyway most houses are full of things no one uses.

    Report on 20 October 2011  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • isobelsgrandma
    Love rating 41
    isobelsgrandma said

    The full refund, no questions asked, is a fairly recent innovation started, I believe, by good old M&S. We've all got used to it but I, like Poorpensioner, remember a time when there was no such policy anywhere. Apparently some people abuse it, buying an item, wearing it once and returning it for the full refund; I only have anecdotal evidence of this. Like free bank accounts, it's what we've come to expect but in the present economic climate perhaps businesses are having a rethink and, as Poorpensioner says, why not?

    Report on 20 October 2011  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • CuNNaXXa
    Love rating 410
    CuNNaXXa said

    It is one thing to return something which is faulty, doesn't do as described or of significantly inferior quality, but to return something because you've realised that YOU made a mistake is a pure luxury.

    The fact that many shops offer a 28 day returns policy is above and beyond our basic rights, but if a shop wishes to charge us for changing our minds, then they entitled to do so.

    As an example, many financial institutions such as insurance companies charge a cancellation fee, so why not retailer?

    Report on 20 October 2011  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • This_is_me
    Love rating 21
    This_is_me said

    Have you researched the actual; costs for a retailer of accepting goods back?

    I don't think so.

    Why shout your mouth off if you have no facts to back up your daft assertion.

    Report on 20 October 2011  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • electricblue
    Love rating 769
    electricblue said

    How stupid and patronising to suggest that a store manager would not be aware of the Distance Selling Regulations. I think most of the major retailers go far beyond their legal obligations in the interests of customer satisfaction, but authors writing articles which encourage the public to assume non-existent rights should have some thought in their tiny selfish minds what the effects of these articles are on small shop keepers and business owners who have to deal with an obnoxious minority of the public, always on the lookout for something for nothing.

    Report on 20 October 2011  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • bejasus
    Love rating 9
    bejasus said

    aaaaaawhhheeey wi ya, We here in the united kingdom have a responsibility to our countrymen, be they above or below the boundary betwixt our countries! That responsibility reaches far and wide to all those who would voice an opinion without a voice, they being deaf, dumb or blind! I for one would stand up and be counted as their many as a voice to be heard on their behalf in the political arena that calls itself the law maker's on their behalf!

    Report on 20 October 2011  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • jscadden
    Love rating 16
    jscadden said

    Ebay will allow returns under the Distance Selling Regulations. I have done it a couple of times when the sale didn't go as well as expected although I did give the sellers an explanation of why I was rejecting the items. If you read Ebay's t&c, you will see that they acknowledge Distance Selling Regulations

    Report on 20 October 2011  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • leah AKA global leah
    Love rating 17
    leah AKA global leah said

    "Ebay will allow returns under the Distance Selling Regulations. I have done it a couple of times when the sale didn't go as well as expected although I did give the sellers an explanation of why I was rejecting the items. If you read Ebay's t&c, you will see that they acknowledge Distance Selling Regulations"

    That is actually wrong, they only acknowledge the selling regulation IF the seller agrees to the sale not going through... I was all ready to buy a car for under £500 from a seller. Then after bidding on it, I'd realised the distance was just too far, I tried to withdraw it via contacting the seller, and he was okay with it, but nobody else bid on it, so I ended up "winning" the car. I emailed Ebay, explaining the circumstances, and they told me that they cannot withdraw the sale unless the seller gets in contact with them, and only after Ebay had mailed the seller several time and not got any response, (plus he relisted it) They were able to withdraw it. I was LUCKY not having to travel 400 miles to pick a car up. If the seller hadn't been okay, then the sale would have gone through whether I liked it or not.

    The law is on both side of the people and company, unless you can give a genuine reason as to why you change your mind, I'm afraid you will be stuck with the item.

    Report on 21 October 2011  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • mudpie
    Love rating 1
    mudpie said

    In the USA the retailers try their best to make life easier for the consumer and they generally have excellent returns policies.

    In this country we appear to accept everything that retailers throw at you and then justify it by saying things like 'Why should they refund?'.... possibly to encourage consumers to return to their shop or make the shopping experience less of a strain????

    Report on 21 October 2011  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • rbgos
    Love rating 84
    rbgos said

    To be fair to the shops, I think a re-stocking fee is justified under some circumstances. If you've opened the packaging, the packaging will probably be partly damaged - the shop then has to get new packaging, and pack the item up again (Halfords is the only shop I've experienced re-selling items in their original packaging with a bit of sellotape holding it closed, which personally I have no problem with). There is a cost to them there.

    The other place I've shopped that charges a significant re-stocking fee is a scrapyard that sells second-hand car parts. I think that's fair enough too, they've had to spend maybe half an hour out in the yard dismantling the part I've asked for, if I then return it there's no guarantee anyone will ever actually want that particular part again, and there should be some compensation for the effort they've put in getting the part. Also there is some disincentive against a customer ordering a whole load of parts that they know full well they might not need, which could waste hours of the mechanic's time with no benefit to them.

    Report on 21 October 2011  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • CuNNaXXa
    Love rating 410
    CuNNaXXa said

    To be brutally honest, rather than returning an item because you have changed your mind, you are probably better off using the Sale Of Goods Act to try and get a refund. If you can persuade the manager that it is not fit for the purpose, or that the quality is lacking, they will probably entertain a refund.

    For example, if you bought a digibox, you could probably claim that it didn't work properly at your home address. It all depends on what you have bought, and what excuse you can think of to justify a refund.

    While this might not be strictly honest, it can work in some situations.

    Also consider the loyalty aspect. If you frequently shop at a store, and are known to the staff, they may entertain a refund if you've changed your mind about something, simply because you are a loyal customer. You may need to point this out to the manager first, before they consider the refund.

    Trade up... I bought a digibox which turned out to be not what I wanted (useless Bush rubbish). I took it back with the receipt and asked for them to change it for a more expensive model, which I would pay the difference for. They had no issue with the upgrade as they were earning more money. It doesn't work if you wish to down size the payment though.

    One final bit of advise is to be pleasant. If you go out of your way to upset the staff or manager of a store, they will make it difficult or impossible to process a refund. Don't mention the Sale Of Goods Act to the manager unless absolutely necessary, and try to be pleasant, using 'Please' and 'Thank You' whenever possible. Staff are human too, and if you appeal to their better nature, they are more inclined to help you out.

    Actually, the best tool when trying to get a refund is diplomacy. If people see you as a threat, then their defences will be raised. If you nurture the appearance that you need help, people will go out of their way to help. You just need to know what is the best approach, and you won't know that until you start a dialogue, and start reading the signs that the other person is giving off.

    Report on 22 October 2011  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • Charley316
    Love rating 2
    Charley316 said

    I have a small independent online business, and we charge a restocking fee of 10% an item is being returned for a reason other than a fault (such as having changed their mind or ordered the wrong product), and if the buyer has had the goods for more than our standard 14 day return period, or if the goods are not in resaleable condition (for example they'e lost the manual, damaged the box or mislaid any small parts). We also charge a restocking fee if a customer has ordered a large volume of a product without trying one out first and wants to return them all, when we always ask them to try one before ordering many.

    We feel we're entirely justified in doing so (although in fairness, we'd actually be justified in not giving a refund at all in many of these circumstances), as it helps keep costs and therefore prices down, and reflects the actual cost of the customer's return. As a small business, we cannot afford to subsidise a customer's carelessness.

    I'm just saying that there are two sides to every story. When a customer returns a product, it costs a business money to process it.

    As for CuNNaXXa's suggestion that you lie to try and bully the retailer, would you like that if the roles were reversed? It's just plain dishonest behaviour and, technically, theft by misrepresentation.

    Report on 26 October 2011  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • bejasus
    Love rating 9
    bejasus said

    A restocking fee? Don't these people earn a wage like everyone else? If its in your Job description then you do it, or there's the door! If a person who usually handles six items is suddenly asked by his employer to handle seven, when to do so doesn't contravene health and safety guild line#s, does he suddenly say sorry boss but that will contravene my terms of employement? Quick answer:- ..No because he/she wants to keep the job.

    Charley 316 claims that CuNNaXXa's idea is theft by misrepresentation, Yet how many retailers increase their prices then offer a discount just so they can claim to be in favour of the customer and having a sale! Yet are actually selling the goods at the same price! Quick answer:- Thousands..because they like profits!

    If an item is returned in its original packaging and in a condition which would permit immediate resale, to charge 10% of its resale value for hitting a few keys to alter stock levels and walking a few paces to put it back on the shelf is taking money under false pretences! Which as states so clearly by Charley 316 is just plain dishonest behaviour, but if it boosts her profits she would willingly be dishonest!

    It's like RBS paying out £millions in bonuses yet having made a loss, for the taxpayer who actually own it! When a customer returns a product it cost pennies to process it yet the company see it as an earning opportunity so charges pounds! That's the truth of it..be Jasus!

    Report on 30 January 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • almondo
    Love rating 0
    almondo said

    I paid for a Fridge Freezer in a store with a credit card. as the fridge was not in stock they told me it would be delivered in 7-10 days. But when I went back the following day to cancel the order I was shocked to be told that there could be a possible charge of 20% re-stocking fee which is working out at £120.00.

    Is this possible, legal or what?? I admit it is reasonable for them to charge some fee for returning a delivered item but this is not the case here and delivery is only going to be done after a week from today.

    Could someone shed some light on this?

    By the way, the reason for my change of mind was that the old fridge started working again perfectly after we steamed it to clear pipes as instructed by a local repairman.

    Report on 19 June 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • Missus_Baker
    Love rating 1
    Missus_Baker said

    Boohoo.com charge a £2 restocking fee per return. I sent back a £10 dress (which wasn't true to size) and was charged 20%!!! This charge is hidden in the small print, but at no point in the ordering or return process is this clearly stated. I spent most of yesterday arguing that the dress was wrongly sized and after 16 hours of their customer services telling me to check the t&c's they finally conceded that the dress was faulty and gave me a refund. They take so long to process the refunds, I doubt many customers actually realise they've been charged!

    Report on 06 October 2012  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • leeg10
    Love rating 0
    leeg10 said

    Dunster House. My girlfriend and I recently purchased a log cabin from Dunster House. After it had been delivered, we changed our minds and called Dunster House to ask them to take it back, they advised us it would be a £30 pick up charge and over £300 restocking fees. An absolute disgrace as this is illegal according to the Distance Selling Regulations. We paid £2800 for the cabin, when we cancelled it, they said we would only receive our money back once they had collected the cabin, this is also against the Distance Selling Regulations as the DSRs state, as shown on www.oft.gov.uk with the following quote for Traders:

    'You must refund the customer’s money even if you have not yet collected the goods or had them returned to you by the customer.

    You cannot insist on receiving the goods before you make a refund'. When Dunster House did collect the goods back, they initially told us we would only receive £1500 back as the wood was damaged. This was completely untrue as the wood was kept and wrapped in waterproof sheeting and never once touched the ground, I have several whitnesses to this. When we reported this to Dunster House and advised them we would be taking legal action, they wrote back saying they would refund a further £800 (total of £2300) as a 'goodwill gesture' which still leaves us £500 short. The fact they offerd this back so quickly, demonstrates to me they knew they didn;t have a leg to stand on. We are going to pursue the remaining money as they are still in breach of the DSRs.

    Update: 30/11/2012.

    After advising Dunster House they were in breach of the DSRs (Distance Selling Regulations), they have agreed to pay back all of our money minus the £29 pick up charge, which is fair enough.

    Report on 28 November 2012  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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