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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Understanding PC Sources, Vendors and Prices | Vendor Evaluation Factors | Guarantees and Return Policies ]

Product Return Policies and Procedures

All companies have specific policies and procedures that govern their handling of items that are returned to them. In terms of how they handle returns, companies vary from cheerful to reluctant, helpful to difficult, and lightning quick to dog slow. In conjunction with determining the company's guarantee policies, if any, you must read up on the processes they use for handling returns, and avoid companies that are unreasonable.

There are a number of different facets to look at when considering a company's handling of policies and procedures for returning products. Be sure to review a company's procedures in advance, to let yourself know what your responsibilities will be, and help you avoid companies that have onerous policies. Here are some things to look for:

  • RMA Issuance: Returning items to a vendor or manufacturer requires a return of material authorization or RMA to be issued; see this section for a full discussion. Some companies make RMAs much easier to get than others; this in some ways boils down to the company's communications efficiency. (Never send a product back to a company without an RMA number.)
  • Who Pays? Will the company pay for you to ship back the product to them, or do you have to pay the shipping? Most will by default make you pay the shipping, but some will cover it if the problem is their fault (such as sending the wrong item). Most better companies will do this. Most will not do this for a new item that is defective in the box, since that really isn't something they did wrong. Some will only do it if you insist upon it or speak to a manager.
  • Refund or Exchange? Will the company refund your purchase price, or just offer exchange for a like item? Some companies will only take back items for "store credit", which only helps you if you plan to shop there again. Note that many companies have different policies for software, to prevent piracy. Few companies will take opened software back for refund, even if they will take back hardware. The same applies generally to other easily-pirated items like music and movies.
  • Speed: If exchanging, will they send the new item out immediately as you send the old one back (cross-shipping) or will they insist on waiting for the old item to be received back? I usually insist on cross-shipping if I am in a hurry for the product, especially if the vendor was at fault. The company may ask for your credit card number as surety that the old item is in fact sent back.
  • Restocking Fees? Will the company charge you a restocking fee for returned items? See this section for a full discussion.

Tip: You can determine some of how a company handles returns by looking for feedback from past customers.

Of course, it's no surprise that it's a lot easier to return products to retail stores than it is to return them to an online vendor. This is one reason why many people prefer to shop at retail stores for some items, especially larger ones. This is just one piece of the puzzle, but if you are unsure of what you are buying, it may well be worth paying a bit more to buy from a local supplier with a generous return policy.

Tip: Keep all of your packaging, and be sure not to discard or damage anything in the package until you are sure you won't need to return the item. Discarding the box or immediately sending in the warranty card on a new product are common mistakes. Some companies won't accept products back if any of the components in the box are missing (usually because if they take back incomplete packages, this facilitates crooks who would steal parts from products they are returning--we all pay indirectly for the results of such individuals' actions.)

For information on the practicalities of returning items, see this section in the area discussing issues that occur after the purchase.

Next: Restocking Fees-A Balanced Look

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