Online Purchasing Pitfalls: Protecting Against Return Burn

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These days, it's not uncommon for people to buy furniture, large electronics, or even appliances on the internet. But the rules about returning products that are defective or don't quite meet expectations can be. Here's how to protect yourself from return burns:

After buying an 8' x 10' rug online only to discover upon unpacking it that it was a completely different color, I had to figure out how to return it. And whoops, look at that, the plastic protector it was shipped in had to be cut to even look at the darned thing. Now I am getting smarter about buying big home purchases online. Here are some ways to avoid getting burned.

  1. Always check the return policy for specific rules about overweight, freight payments or restocking fees before purchasing. This is obvious, but sometimes all three can apply to a purchase and it can be hard to know for sure before you find yourself trying to return something. If in doubt, consult customer service first.
  2. Don't destroy the packaging. As I learned, it's hard to find boxes or plastic wrap large enough for the item you're receiving, so carefully unbox and for all that is holy, don't throw away or recycle the packaging!
  3. Double check the shipping rules before attaching the prepaid label. This is another common way consumers get burned by online purchases. The prepaid label is truly often only paid by the shipper if the purchase is defective. Oftentimes, if the purchase is returned because a color isn't your favorite or it's too big, the store will deduct the shipping cost from your reimbursement. In some cases, that can be upwards of $100 on large packages.
  4. Shop around for shipping. For the reasons stated in #3, if you find you are going to be covering the cost of shipping, don't just go with the preferred shipping service. It's totally acceptable to shop around between USPS, UPS, FedEx and DHL to find a better deal.
  5. If you ship yourself, make sure all the appropriate paperwork and account numbers are clearly labeled INSIDE and OUTSIDE the package. Warehouses are responsible for receiving packages and scanning them and when you use your own shipping, it often means they need to take an extra step to process your return. Make it easy on everyone and put your order number, contact information and item number on the outside of the package too.

What are your best tips and tricks for returning large home purchases to online retailers?

(Image credits: Sean Dreilinger via Flickr's Creative Commons under CC BY 2.0)