How to Return Online Purchases Without Spending a Dime On Shipping Costs

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Returning items you purchased from online sales or deals means your shipping costs can add up quickly, but free shipping is not unattainable.

Many consumers experience buyer’s remorse after receiving items they shopped for online. Without the in-person, tactile shopping experience, it's easy to get an item that isn't quite right --  the unforgettable designer dress that's two sizes too small, the milk foamer that takes up your entire kitchen counter. 

But returns represent a logistical annoyance and a financial ding to your bank account. In fact Internet Retailer, the e-commerce data company, conducted a survey revealing that in 2014 only 9.8% of its top 500 retailers offered free return shipping. To boot, some 69% of online shoppers describe return shipping as a complicated process, and 46% of online shoppers keep their purchases because returning is too inconvenient.

So how do you send your unwanted goods back without burdening your shoulders -- and your wallet?

Shop in the Right Places 

While consumers may be inclined to use the post office, UPS and FedEx to return items -- millions do especially after the Christmas period -- consumers who want to take advantage of free shipping and skip the hassle of standing in line should buy their items through eBay or Amazon. The labels are printed for free for return if you're still within the return time period, said Joe Silverman, CEO of New York Computer Help, a consumer-leaning tech support company.

If you bought online directly from manufacturers such as Apple, Dell or Sony, you should call them to request a free return label since online help will usually ask you to pay the shipping, he said.

Rely on the Plastic

If you are past the return date, simply call the credit card company you used to make your purchase, Silverman said.

“American Express is the most lenient, providing insurance for returns that otherwise aren't accepted directly,” he said. “Credit card companies, typically by default, also extend product warranties another year or double the amount of your current warranty. Basically, credit card companies are your best friends when it comes to buying tech products.”

Many companies have 60-day or longer warranties for computers, laptops and other devices. Consumers who are attempting to return laptops or ultrabooks can certainly use this to their advantage, Silverman said.

“Our company policy is a 60-day warranty on paper for computer repairs,” he said. “In reality, if one of our customer's computer, iPhones, iPad or other devices we serviced is acting up again, we are very lenient with our policy. Calling up customer service departments of laptop manufacturer companies and speaking to supervisors to complain of lost time and aggravation will usually help you bypass stringent return policies.”

Get Return Insurance And Return Subscriptions

When you are mailing expensive items back on your dime, buying insurance safeguards the shipment in case it gets lost. Keep in mind that the credit card you used to purchase the item also contains coverage for items and returns, so it is worthwhile to find out the maximum amount they allow, Silverman said.

Keep track of all order receipts since you might need to include a copy of the receipt with the shipment, said Tom Caporaso, CEO of Clarus Marketing Group, a Middletown, Conn. company which builds and customizes subscription programs such as FreeShipping.com and Return Saver. Read the retailer’s returns policy, so you know how much time you have to make a return, what items can and can’t be returned and what you have to do to qualify for a refund.

If you frequently return your online purchases, companies such as Return Saver allows consumers to return an unlimited number of purchases to virtually any online retailer within the U.S. for $49 per year. After paying the annual fee, every return under 50 lbs. is free.

“Return Saver eliminates a major headache for consumers,” he said. “Members know they won’t be charged for return shipping if they’re not happy with an online purchase, no matter where they made it. For $49 a year, shoppers can send back an unlimited number of online purchases via FedEx Ground.”

--Written by Ellen Chang for MainStreet

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