Learn About the Hidden Costs of Restocking Fees

It May Not Really Be a Full Refund Offer

Elevated view of large distribution warehouse
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Many stores confidently display signs that read something similar to this: "Try it for 30 days and return it for a full refund if you are not completely satisfied." It is a strong sales message that retailers use to nudge shoppers into buying. Some customers feel more confident about buying an item that they can return if they aren't satisfied. And while most reputable stores accept returns, the amount that customers get back might be considerably less if the store has restocking fees.

Restocking Fees

Some retailers charge restocking fees to customers who return non-defective merchandise. It helps stores absorb losses that occur when merchandise is returned. This includes paying employees to process returns, repackaging and restocking the merchandise, testing the products, data removal, and having to reduce the price because the merchandise has been removed from the box and can no longer be sold as new.

The average restocking fees are 10 to 20 percent (and up to 50 percent) of the retail price. Restocking fees are often deducted from returns of electronics, computers, mattresses, foundations, assembled and upholstered indoor furniture, water heaters, built-in home appliances, outdoor equipment and special orders. Clothing that is out of season is also subject to restocking fees at some stores.

State Laws

Many states have rules governing restocking fees, including when and how stores communicate to customers about the fees. Policy signage placed conspicuously on the selling floor and within the register areas is a common rule. Most states do not permit restocking fees to be charged on defective merchandise that is returned or when an incorrect product has been shipped to the customer.

How Much Restocking Fees Can Cost

Here is a typical policy about restocking fees:

"A restocking fee of 15 percent will be charged on opened notebook computers, projectors, camcorders, digital cameras, radar detectors, GPS navigation and in-car video systems unless defective or prohibited by law. A restocking fee of 25 percent will be charged on Special Order Products, including appliances unless defective or prohibited by law."

Based on this policy, if a customer returned a notebook computer that cost $600, they would be charged $90.00 in restocking fees. If a couple special ordered a 70-inch television that the store did not normally carry in stock, and the cost was $1,999.99 and then they had to return it because it was too large for the wall where it was to hang, they would have to pay $500 in restocking fees because it was a special order.

Here is How You Can Avoid Paying Restocking Fees

  • Know the Store's Policy: If you do not see a policy sign posted, ask to speak to a manager and have them explain the policy. Ask for a copy of the policy for your records. It is risky to make a purchase without the written policy. The person who quoted the policy may not be employed at the store when you go to return it.
  • Watch Out for Shorter Return Days: Products with restocking fees often have to be returned sooner than​ other products in the store. This is especially true around the holidays when many stores advertise longer return dates. Check the small print on return policies.
  • Check the Model Number Before Opening the Package: When you order merchandise that is being delivered, always verify the model number by looking on the outside of the packaging. Do not open the packaging unless it is the correct model.
  • Keep all Accessories, Manuals, and Packaging Intact: Avoid tampering with product packaging. If you need to open the box, keep everything that is inside including the little bags that hold the batteries.
  • Open Packages Carefully: Packaging is expensive for retailers to replace. The better the box looks when you go to return the item, the better chance you have of not being charged a fee.
  • Buy Gift Certificates: If you are buying a present, then a gift certificate could be a better choice.
  • Know Your State's Laws: Most states have laws regarding restocking fees. In some states, there may be a dollar limit on restocking fees or it may be illegal for any amount to be charged. Contact your Department of Consumer Affairs and find out what the laws are where you live.
  • Defective Products or Missing Items: If you purchase a lemon, do not pay a restocking fee. If a store insists on charging the fee, reach out to the corporate office's customer service department.

The Bottom Line

Research before you buy. Get a manager's written approval for any exceptions to the company policy. If you do not see a written restocking fee policy, ask for a copy of it before making your purchase. If you find that you will be charged a restocking fee, try to negotiate a lower amount, and get it in writing.