“I thought if I took the product back to the store within
three days they had to give me my money back!”
“I bought a dress that looked nice in the store, but when I
got it home I decided I did not like it. When I tried to get my money back, the
store refused. Is this legal?”
Misunderstandings about refund policies are common. Many
problems could be prevented if consumers had a clear understanding of a
business’ policy before paying a deposit or making a purchase.
In Wisconsin, there are no laws that specifically regulate
return or refund policies. Provided the goods are not misrepresented, each
business may set its own return policy.
When determining a store’s return policy, it is always best
to ask for it in writing. Do not just take the word of an employee.
Options include offering customers cash, credit slips,
exchanges, or no adjustment at all. Policies may differ for various items
within the store. For example, clearance or closeout items may be marked “final
sale – no returns.” If you purchase an item that is defective, the store may
require you to contact the manufacturer, rather than replace the item or issue
With all the different options available, it helps to
clearly understand refund policies before you pay any money. Ask the following
Is there a time limit for returns?
Will I be able to get a cash refund?
Do I have to use credit slips within a specified time
Will the store accept returns of sale merchandise, seconds
Is there a special policy for deposits?
If a business agrees to an exception to its normal policy,
get the promise in writing and include the date and the name of employee.
One of the most common refund policy complaints concern
special orders for items such as furniture and auto parts. Many retailers allow
no adjustments or returns on special orders. Others agree to accept a return,
but require consumers to pay a percentage of the bill for restocking fees.
Before you sign a contract for special order items, ask the
business about refund and return policies. Insist that delivery dates be
written into your contract and make sure you can get your money back if the
shipment is late.
Policies should be posted
The Bureau of Consumer Protection suggests that businesses
post refund policy information in a conspicuous place such as near the cash
register or the customer service area. Some businesses include refund policy
information in advertisements, mailings or on cash register receipts. When you
make a purchase, note any unusual or uncommon policy.
If the store policy is not posted, ask about their policy
before making a purchase.
Shopping from home
Locating or obtaining a return and refund policy varies when
purchases are made away from the place of business.
Television advertisements normally have their return and
refund policy appearing briefly in small print below the larger print
information on how to place an order. Consumers may have to watch the
advertisement more than once to write down this information.
Internet purchase policies may appear directly with the
purchase materials or found elsewhere on the website. Once located, the policy
should be printed for future reference.
Written advertisements or mail solicitations may have the
return and refund policy within the advertisement. If not, you should request a
mailing of the written policy prior to purchasing.
Verbal and over-the-telephone return and refund policy
statements should always be supported by receiving the policy in writing prior
to placing an order.
Verify that you are dealing with a reputable seller as
scammers may provide a written return and refund policy. However, the scammers
may disappear as soon as a problem surfaces and the chance of enforcing a
return and refund policy is very slim.
Tips for hassle-free returns
To improve your chances of getting a full refund, leave the
price tag or UPC code on, provide a sales slip or gift receipt, and return the
item in new condition, unopened with all original packaging material. Returns
without a receipt may receive only a merchandise credit for the lowest price
the item has sold for recently, or possibly no refund or exchange at all.
Be careful when purchasing gift cards or certificates. If
the store closes its doors for good and the gift card has not been used, it can
be very difficult to get a refund for the unused balance.
If you see a good deal on an item because the store claims
that it is going out of business soon or because stock was damaged, ask
questions about the reason for the sale. A retailer may not represent that they
are having a “going out of business” sale or disposing of damaged stock unless
this is actually the case.
If you have a problem returning a gift, first contact the
store manager or customer service department of the retailer.
Some credit cards also offer a “return guarantee” benefit
which will reimburse you if the store declines to.
Understand what the return policies are for sale and
clearance items as it may be different than merchandise sold at full price.
Some retailers have different return policies depending on
whether you shopped online or in a store. Look for return policies when buying
online or from catalogs. Sometimes shipped merchandise can be returned to a
store location. Otherwise, you may be charged a shipping fee to return or
exchange an item.
Health regulations, which can prohibit the return of hats
and intimate apparel, may apply.
Do not wait too long to return the item. Many stores have a
limited time frame from the date of purchase in which you can make a return.
If you are a regular customer or have a store credit
account, mention that fact as you discuss your return options. Merchants are
usually willing to accommodate loyal customers.
CAUTION should always be exercised when a business, seller,
or private party refuses to provide a written policy prior to purchasing. You
may also want to consider other sources should the policy be unclear, poorly
written or difficult to obtain.