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When To Fight Store Restocking Fees

They are beloved by most electronic stores: you buy a wireless device or TV, you return it in the box within the warranty period and you still get hit with a restocking fee. The reason? The store must return the product to the manufacturer – which costs money – so a restocking fee acts to deter customers from returning a product for reasons other than it being defective.

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But it can be worth challenging these fees, even if the product isn’t broken. A case in point: I bought a Verizon VL600 4G USB modem. The sales assistant forgot to include the SIM card, so I returned the modem. I wanted to cancel my contract and get a refund, as I was within my 14-day warranty period. No problem. But the retailer wanted to charge a $35 restocking fee.

The product wasn’t defective, but it wouldn’t work without the card. The sales assistant in the store – a New York-based Verizon Wireless franchisee – agreed to reduce the $35 to $20. That wasn’t good enough, so I called Verizon customer support from the store. The representative canceled the restocking fee because I had not received the service I should have expected.

The lessons:

1. Be aware of the store’s policy on these fees before you buy the product and don’t roll over if the retailer decides to charge you a restocking fee.

2. Remember that a restocking fee is often a trade-off between the circumstances of your case and the company’s willingness to show you goodwill.

Brenda B. Raney, a spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless, says restocking fees are an “industry standard” and says the company must recover costs through these fees. “Customers walk into a store and expect to walk out with a brand new, never-opened device so when a customer returns a phone, we can’t sell the phone as a new device because it has been used,” she says.

Most cell phone companies charge exactly the same restocking fee: AT&T charges $35 for all devices unless the device is returned unopened. Sprint charges $35 within its 30-day “satisfaction guarantee period.” But it’s not an exact science: T-Mobile charges a $75 restocking fee for tablets, $50 for smart phones and $24 for basic phone devices such as memory cards.

Last January, Apple canceled all restocking fees at Apple Stores. An Apple spokesman didn’t give a reason for the change in policy, but retail analysts say Apple builds the potential costs of these fees into its profit margins and/or it eats up the cost of returning the products to the factory. Either way, Apple scores a big win on the customer service front.

Ezra Gottheil, senior analyst for TBR (Technology Business Research), says choosing to charge a restocking fee is “complex equation” about what kind of buying environment the stores are creating. “Apple has shown evidence of sensitivity to those kinds of issues,” he says. “It finds it worthwhile to make the Apple Store experience as pleasant as possible.”

Have you ever disputed a restocking fee?

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    • By WebOsPublisher

      Index: FileSharing-Windows/FileSharing.sln
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      Index: FileSharing-Windows/FileSharing.vcproj
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      — FileSharing-Windows/FileSharing.vcproj (revision 25319)
      +++ FileSharing-Windows/FileSharing.vcproj (working copy)
      @@ -1,306 +1,440 @@
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      + SuppressStartupBanner=”true”
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      + Name=”VCALinkTool”
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      + /
      + Name=”VCXDCMakeTool”
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      + Name=”VCFxCopTool”
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      + Name=”VCAppVerifierTool”
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    • I agree with all of your comments. Two weeks ago I purchased an ATT Go Phone. After the fact (via google) I was informed of a company that would flash my iPhone so I can use to Page Plus service for the same price. I didn’t check my receipt nor ask the store about a restock fee before leaving. So I decided to check the policy on the back of the receipt and it says “may be subject to a restocking fee of $35.” I called and confirmed. Phone is in great condition, but I get the whole “sending back to the manufacturer” idea as I have worked in retail, so rather than argue over the “may be charged” clause, I opted to put the phone on Amazon. If it doesn’t sell before my 30 days is up, I’ll go back to the store and get my refund less the fee. It all depends on the situation I suppose.

    • Here’s a good one for you. I signed for service with AT&T, (unfortunately not a corporate store), and purchased a LG Thrill Smartphone. Within 2 weeks or so the phone just started shutting off and/or restarting by itself. So I take the phone back and they check it out and tell me that the software on the phone needs an upgrade for the problem to be resolved. But the upgrade from the company is not planned to be released for a couple of months. I found that totally unacceptable, and had I opted to get another LG Thrill there would not have been a $35 restocking fee charge. However, it would probably have the same issue occur for needing a software upgrade that did not exist yet. So I opted to get a Motorola Atrix 2 instead, and it has worked great for me. Now, my point is why would anyone charge a restocking fee if the item you were returning was defective? Crazy huh? :-(

About Pay Dirt

  • Pay Dirt examines the millions of consumer decisions Americans make every day: What to buy, how much to pay, whether to rave or complain. Lead written by Quentin Fottrell, the blog examines these interactions, providing readers with news, insight and tips on shopping, spending, customer service, and companies that do right – and wrong – by their customers. Send items, questions and comments to quentin.fottrell@dowjones.com or tweet @SMPayDirt.

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