What do re-stocking fees say about a retailer?

PurgatoryChristmas is the time for good will toward shoppers, and with that in mind, Target, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy have dropped their re-stocking fees to boost customer service. Ethan Jones, a customer service administrator for Best Buy assures customers that as long as everything is returned in the original box, all re-stocking fees will be waived.

Other stores, in an effort to boost customer loyalty offer generous return policies. Without a receipt, some stores however will offer an exchange, store credit, or a customer will have to settle for the sale price. Returning holiday gifts really do vary from store to store, but most stores aren’t in it for an argument, so it is always best to check each retailer’s return policies.

All of this gift returning does make one think about a store’s reason for assessing re-stocking fees. Is it just another way for a retailer to add a little more profit to his bottom line? Greg Catrasinsky, a local merchant who  builds and installs custom play houses  who charges such a fee stated:

“I charge on all non-defective returned items because my margins don’t allow me to take a product back on a whim. I provide excellent customer service, competitive prices, and inexpensive delivery. I couldn’t afford to stay in business if I didn’t charge to disassemble the project. Sometimes a parent buys a playhouse and doesn’t think of the child’s needs, but I ask all of those questions when they come to my shop. I once had a little girl call to say she wanted to return the playhouse because it wasn’t purple.”

Most re-stocking fees keep a portion of the price; usual charges run between 10 to 20 percent, and apply to returned products only that are not returned because of defects. Is it easier to just buy from a store that doesn’t have a re-stocking fee? Is it just pure greed or is it justifiable to charge re-stocking fees in certain circumstances? After all, don’t most stores have to deal with more processing when an item is returned?

So let’s assume that it is very possible a store could be stuck with a product that can no longer be sold as new. If I purchase a new HP laptop and decide in a week it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles I want to have now, or maybe that pink Dell isn’t so much my favorite color anymore, my returned computer can’t just be taped up and placed back on the shelf. What’s on the hard drive? If I purchase a printer and return it in a few days, it still has to be checked and rechecked before being offered for sale again. When you’re dealing with “consumables” shouldn’t there be some kind of responsibility on the part of the consumer too?

Stores, whether brick and mortar or online don’t just absorb extra costs of doing business; we as shoppers pay the extra freight when we shop. Is it just the cost of doing business? I don’t think we can make any generalities about re-stocking charges nor should we just do our shopping elsewhere because a store has that included in their return policy, but I do think customer service agents should be granted the power to make case by case decisions. If I purchased an I Pod today, didn’t take it out of the original box, and returned it tomorrow, I wouldn’t expect to pay a re-stocking fee, but if I played that I Pod for a week and returned it because I didn’t like the color anymore – well then that’s another story.

You do understand I hope!

photo credit: psd