By Lou Carlozo, dealnews contributor
With some discounts and deals, we, as consumers, can expect to get what we pay for. Sometimes a super cheap "as is" item doesn't stand up to our expectations; any garage sale and flea market item, for example, could be a bargain buy, or could be a bust.
Similarly, the ever-developing landscape of online consumer electronics sales has yellow flags, too, though many consumers don't notice until it's too late. Return policies for computers and other big-ticket items, especially, can be easily overlooked. The fine print in many terms and conditions agreements can be outright bizarre, and there are probably as many variations and catches in these refund and return policies as, say, there are printer cartridge types.
We surveyed the electronics return policies of a number of retailers regularly featured on dealnews to look for clauses and statements that stood out. Here's what we found.
A Hard-Boiled newegg
newegg regularly breaks through the online retail static with amazing deals, but reading their fine print on the standard return policy for computers is enough to, if you will, crack the shell of even a seasoned bargain hunter. Here's a company that's strict to the point of saying that they'll only offer refunds for a computer purchase if your package is unopened. And it doesn't stop there.
newegg informs buyers that "any desktop PC, notebook, or tablet PC that is free from defects in materials or workmanship" is not eligible for return; you cannot be refunded, and the item cannot be replaced. So if upon receipt you find the laptop you just bought overly bulky, for example, or you change your mind about the features, you're stuck with the computer you bought. What's more, "products missing UPC codes or serial numbers from the box are not returnable." Ouch. So rather than run afoul of newegg's Return Policy Police, we suggest strongly that you take a look at the conditions they outline before you add that tablet or laptop to your shopping cart. Otherwise, your buyer's remorse could multiply exponentially.
Keep Your Return in Order at TigerDirect
Like many retailers, TigerDirect requires that you obtain a Return Authorization (or RA) number before you can return or exchange a product. TigerDirect's return policy appears fairly straightforward: You need to make sure the product is packed securely and includes all the original accessories. This includes "all packing materials, manuals, diskettes, CDs, digital media, blank warranty cards and other accessories and documentation." If you ship the unwanted product back to TigerDirect and it's less than complete, they'll charge you a "restocking fee" of up to 25%. And if there's a rebate attached, be advised that "products offering mail-in-rebates are non-returnable to TigerDirect.com once the rebates have been filed for." It should be noted, however, that many other stores, too, have strict policies on returns for rebate items.
MicroCenter's Ticking Clock
MicroCenter "guarantees your satisfaction on every product we sell with a full refund — and you won't even need a receipt." That said, you don't get the standard 30 days you would at other retailers. According to their return policy, desktops, notebook computers, tablets, processors, motherboards, digital cameras, camcorders and projectors, and CD/DVD duplicators are among the products that "may be returned within 15 days of purchase." All other products may be returned within 30 days of purchase; merchandise must be in new condition, with original carton/UPC, and all packaging, accessories, and materials.
Getting with the Program at the Microsoft Store
It's very tempting to crack a joke that "this program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down," as Microsoft has some strict non-negotiable clauses in its return policy. Clearance items and RAM sales are final, as are those on Xbox 360 games (surprisingly) and boxed non-Microsoft software. Oddly though, the store does honor 30-day returns on downloadable software. Mobile phones sold by the Microsoft Store initiate from Simplexity, LLC and are subject to their policies. Computer and hardware exchanges appear hassle-free within 30 days from the date of purchase provided that "the item has not been opened or altered from its original state and does not show wear or damage."
Keep that Receipt from MacMall
When it comes to getting reimbursed for travel expenses at work, usually a copy of your receipt is good enough, and sometimes even a hand-scribbled note will make your boss happy. But if you buy a product from MacMall, their return policy leaves no wiggle room for receipt substitutes. Returns or exchanges will not be accepted if "you [the purchaser] do not have your original receipt. (No copies or facsimiles will be accepted.)"
Take Stock of Restocking Fees at J&R
Here's an instance where buying online beats going to the store, as J&R offers "an exclusive 30-day exchange/refund policy on mail order and web purchases," but only a 14-day return window for retail store purchases. Returns without an RA number will be refused without exception though, and "all returns of non-defective products are subject to a restocking fee." How much that fee is they don't say, but even if it's a fairly conservative 10%, you're looking at $25 for an item costing $250.
Bring Identification to Best Buy
If you return or exchange an item at a Best Buy store, make sure you bring a photo ID, or they're not going to accept your item. (We've read accounts over at The Consumerist that suggest Best Buys looks for habitual returners.) While all customers get a 30-day exchange period, you'll get an extra 15 days to return any items if you're a Reward Zone Program Premier Silver member. (To be eligible, you must spend $2,500 in a calendar year on eligible purchases online or in store, or $2,500 anywhere with a Reward Zone program MasterCard.)
Of all the policies we surveyed, Best Buy's returns and exchanges policy is of the least complicated, offering a fairly easy path to a refund or an exchange if you're not satisfied with your purchase. Now for the fine print: "Best Buy reserves the right to deny any return or exchange." So if you're visiting a store, be extra nice to the sales associate or manager and make sure your product is returned as close as possible to the way you purchased it.
The ease of shopping online can sometimes encourage you to make quick purchases, but you'd be wise to take the time to first become familiar with a vendor's return policy before you finalize your order. As we've noted above, there are sometimes unexpected caveats that might make the experience tricky.
Readers, have you encountered unusually restrictive return policies for electronics or other goods? Sound off in the comments below.
Front page photo credit: Marlo by Design
Photo credits top to bottom: Tech Rice,
The Adventures of Matt and Sarah, and The Consumerist
Lou Carlozo is a dealnews
contributing writer. He covers personal finance for Reuters Wealth, and was most recently the managing editor of WalletPop.com, and before that a veteran columnist at the Chicago Tribune.
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