Black Friday: Watch out for shorter return times and restocking fees

Shoppers may want to find the best deals on Black Friday, but in doing so, they may overlook an area where they can suffer: product returns.

According to a recent survey of 500 retailers by return management services provider goTRG, six out of 10 retailers are changing their return policies this holiday season. These changes tend not to benefit the consumer, with many stores shortening return periods while adding fees for restocking and online returns, said goTRG CEO Sander Shamis.

The changes may surprise some shoppers who have grown accustomed to the generous return policies common during the pandemic, when retailers relaxed their guidelines to give consumers more breathing room. For example, Kohl’s and Bloomingdale’s extended their return windows in 2020 by another 30 and 90 days, respectively.

But retailers are now dealing with stock overload and a slowing economy, prompting some to tighten policies. Bottom line for Black Friday shoppers: Check return policies before you buy to avoid an unwanted surprise, experts say.

“Now retailers are saying, ‘We don’t care if customers are going to cause this crazy return nightmare that we can’t afford,'” Shamis said.

He added that retail executives are concerned about the strength of the economy “and are making sure that their policies best support their businesses.”

Shorter window at Amazon

Among the changes this year at major retail chains: Amazon, which says customers who purchased items between October 11 and December 25 can return them until January 31, 2023. a smaller window than last yearwhen buyers could return goods purchased between October 1 and December 31, 2021, and January 31, 2022.

Some retailers now charge customers for online returns, although they typically don’t charge for returns at brick-and-mortar locations. This can help reduce costs for retailers and encourage more people to visit the store, where they may be tempted to purchase additional items on their return.

“The low-hanging fruit is changing the return policy,” Shamis said. “As e-commerce matures, they’re starting to move away from these extremely liberal policies that were there to come back.”

H&M, for example, charges a US$5.99 return shipping fee, which is deducted from the customer’s refund when the item is returned. The store noted that the policy is not new, but it may begin testing online return fees in some European markets as well.

Zara earlier this year started charging $3.95 for online returns, though it doesn’t charge a fee when consumers return online purchases at a brick-and-mortar location.

“We’ve gotten used to this insanely long return policy” during the pandemic, Shamis said. “None of that exists anymore.”

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