We all know that when you buy some software, a gadget, a piece of hardware or anything else, it is nice to know you can return it should there be a problem and (hopefully) get your money back. However, being a smart consumer means understanding the issue from the retailer’s perspective, too.

Here are some tips to help you avoid the potential headaches of product returns.

NOTE: This article was originally written about 6 months ago, but I thought I’d bring it forward seeing as we’re coming out of the Christmas holiday and a few returns is normal. 🙂 Enjoy.

Before Attempting a Return

Before you hop in the car and head back to the store, think about a few things:

  1. Does it really need to go back? Many times people return things thinking the product does not work. In reality, though, many times it is user error (sorry, it is the truth). Before assuming you have a faulty product, go online and search for your issue. It could be that you are just missing something. Perhaps a call to the manufacturer is in order to have them walk you through it.
  2. If you can, don’t open it! The absolute easiest product return is the product which comes back in exactly as it left the store – unopened and ready to go on the shelf for somebody else to buy. Most retailers will simply not accept software returns because of the possibility of making a copy and then returning it. For hardware, many retailers will charge a restocking fee. This is because, if the product comes in opened, the retailer takes on costs to ensure the product is in working order. Also, the retailer cannot turn around and sell a product at normal cost if it has been opened. So, they pass on the fee (usually 15%) to you.
  3. Don’t Delay. If you buy a product and decide to return it, don’t delay. The longer you wait, the less your chance of getting your money back. Pay attention to the return policy of the retailer. Some retailers have fairly strict return policies (14 or 30 days). Others are more lenient. But, don’t go into the store after the deadline has passed and act like they owe you a refund. If you waited too long, you’re the bonehead, not them.
  4. Save The Receipt. It seems obvious, but a lot of people have a bad habit of losing their receipt. Put it in a safe place. Without a receipt, your options are limited. Some retailers may not even take the item back at all. Others will, but instead of giving you money back, they’ll give you a gift card that has to be used in that store.

Returning It?

You’ve decided to return a product and get your money back. Here are a few tips for you:

  1. Bring Back Everything. If you’re opened the product, try to put everything back into the box as close to as you got it as you can. This means save the box, the packaging – everything – when you open the product. I generally keep product boxes in my closet for the first couple months of owning a new product. Then, in case I need to return it, I can pull the box and retail packaging out and put everything back. This includes all cables, ties, manuals – anything that came with the product.
  2. Check To See if You Need an RMA. Some retailers (especially online ones) may require that you have a return merchandise authorization code, or RMA. Check the website or call them and ask if that is the case. Follow their instructions to get the RMA if necessary.
  3. Don’t Make a Habit. Retailers deal with refund fraud all the time. Some people try to take advantage of store refund policies to make money. These types of people often visit the refund desk fairly often so you cannot be surprised if frequent refunders end up being red flagged.

Having a Problem?

If you have done everything properly and the retailer simply refuses to give you your money back, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  1. Contact the Manufacturer. If you waited too long, you might not be able to deal with your retailer anymore. You will, instead, need to contact the manufacturer and try to deal with the product warranty.
  2. There’s always Ebay. You can turn around and sell the item on Ebay and make some of your money back.
  3. Complain. If you’ve done everything right and get refused, you can always file a complaint with the likes of the Better Business Bureau. You can also contact one of the many consumer hotlines that are out there and try to make a public story about it. I would recommend that you not take this personally. Do what you can, but you have better things to do than to make it your life’s mission to get back at a retailer who won’t give your money back.
  4. Dispute the Charge. If you paid by credit card, you can often dispute the charge with your credit card company. But, wield this hammer with an educated eye. Never dispute a charge as your first recourse. Always make every effort to deal with the seller personally with your issue first and give them the opportunity to make you a happy customer.