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Watch Out for These Strict Electronics Return Policies

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By , dealnews contributor

With some discounts and deals, we, as consumers, can expect to get what we pay for. Sometimes a super cheap "as is" item doesn't stand up to our expectations; any garage sale and flea market item, for example, could be a bargain buy, or could be a bust.

Similarly, the ever-developing landscape of online consumer electronics sales has yellow flags, too, though many consumers don't notice until it's too late. Return policies for computers and other big-ticket items, especially, can be easily overlooked. The fine print in many terms and conditions agreements can be outright bizarre, and there are probably as many variations and catches in these refund and return policies as, say, there are printer cartridge types.

We surveyed the electronics return policies of a number of retailers regularly featured on dealnews to look for clauses and statements that stood out. Here's what we found.

A Hard-Boiled newegg

newegg regularly breaks through the online retail static with amazing deals, but reading their fine print on the standard return policy for computers is enough to, if you will, crack the shell of even a seasoned bargain hunter. Here's a company that's strict to the point of saying that they'll only offer refunds for a computer purchase if your package is unopened. And it doesn't stop there.

newegg informs buyers that "any desktop PC, notebook, or tablet PC that is free from defects in materials or workmanship" is not eligible for return; you cannot be refunded, and the item cannot be replaced. So if upon receipt you find the laptop you just bought overly bulky, for example, or you change your mind about the features, you're stuck with the computer you bought. What's more, "products missing UPC codes or serial numbers from the box are not returnable." Ouch. So rather than run afoul of newegg's Return Policy Police, we suggest strongly that you take a look at the conditions they outline before you add that tablet or laptop to your shopping cart. Otherwise, your buyer's remorse could multiply exponentially.

Keep Your Return in Order at TigerDirect

Like many retailers, TigerDirect requires that you obtain a Return Authorization (or RA) number before you can return or exchange a product. TigerDirect's return policy appears fairly straightforward: You need to make sure the product is packed securely and includes all the original accessories. This includes "all packing materials, manuals, diskettes, CDs, digital media, blank warranty cards and other accessories and documentation." If you ship the unwanted product back to TigerDirect and it's less than complete, they'll charge you a "restocking fee" of up to 25%. And if there's a rebate attached, be advised that "products offering mail-in-rebates are non-returnable to TigerDirect.com once the rebates have been filed for." It should be noted, however, that many other stores, too, have strict policies on returns for rebate items.

MicroCenter's Ticking Clock

MicroCenter "guarantees your satisfaction on every product we sell with a full refund — and you won't even need a receipt." That said, you don't get the standard 30 days you would at other retailers. According to their return policy, desktops, notebook computers, tablets, processors, motherboards, digital cameras, camcorders and projectors, and CD/DVD duplicators are among the products that "may be returned within 15 days of purchase." All other products may be returned within 30 days of purchase; merchandise must be in new condition, with original carton/UPC, and all packaging, accessories, and materials.

Getting with the Program at the Microsoft Store

It's very tempting to crack a joke that "this program has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down," as Microsoft has some strict non-negotiable clauses in its return policy. Clearance items and RAM sales are final, as are those on Xbox 360 games (surprisingly) and boxed non-Microsoft software. Oddly though, the store does honor 30-day returns on downloadable software. Mobile phones sold by the Microsoft Store initiate from Simplexity, LLC and are subject to their policies. Computer and hardware exchanges appear hassle-free within 30 days from the date of purchase provided that "the item has not been opened or altered from its original state and does not show wear or damage."

Keep that Receipt from MacMall

When it comes to getting reimbursed for travel expenses at work, usually a copy of your receipt is good enough, and sometimes even a hand-scribbled note will make your boss happy. But if you buy a product from MacMall, their return policy leaves no wiggle room for receipt substitutes. Returns or exchanges will not be accepted if "you [the purchaser] do not have your original receipt. (No copies or facsimiles will be accepted.)"

Take Stock of Restocking Fees at J&R

Here's an instance where buying online beats going to the store, as J&R offers "an exclusive 30-day exchange/refund policy on mail order and web purchases," but only a 14-day return window for retail store purchases. Returns without an RA number will be refused without exception though, and "all returns of non-defective products are subject to a restocking fee." How much that fee is they don't say, but even if it's a fairly conservative 10%, you're looking at $25 for an item costing $250.

Bring Identification to Best Buy

If you return or exchange an item at a Best Buy store, make sure you bring a photo ID, or they're not going to accept your item. (We've read accounts over at The Consumerist that suggest Best Buys looks for habitual returners.) While all customers get a 30-day exchange period, you'll get an extra 15 days to return any items if you're a Reward Zone Program Premier Silver member. (To be eligible, you must spend $2,500 in a calendar year on eligible purchases online or in store, or $2,500 anywhere with a Reward Zone program MasterCard.)

Of all the policies we surveyed, Best Buy's returns and exchanges policy is of the least complicated, offering a fairly easy path to a refund or an exchange if you're not satisfied with your purchase. Now for the fine print: "Best Buy reserves the right to deny any return or exchange." So if you're visiting a store, be extra nice to the sales associate or manager and make sure your product is returned as close as possible to the way you purchased it.


The ease of shopping online can sometimes encourage you to make quick purchases, but you'd be wise to take the time to first become familiar with a vendor's return policy before you finalize your order. As we've noted above, there are sometimes unexpected caveats that might make the experience tricky.

Readers, have you encountered unusually restrictive return policies for electronics or other goods? Sound off in the comments below.

Front page photo credit: Marlo by Design
Photo credits top to bottom: Tech Rice,
The Adventures of Matt and Sarah, and The Consumerist


Lou Carlozo is a dealnews contributing writer. He covers personal finance for Reuters Wealth, and was most recently the managing editor of WalletPop.com, and before that a veteran columnist at the Chicago Tribune.

Follow @dealnewsfeature on Twitter for the latest roundups, price trend info, and stories. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.

Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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7 comments
redhawke22
TigerDirect DISHONEST refund policy.... I sent in TWO DIFFERENT ITEMS FOR REFUNDS, months apart and BOTH times received and email stating: "Please be advised that the following merchandise authorized for return under order no. XXXXXX has been received and will be credited to your original payment method. Allow 3 - 4 business days to view the credit on your account."
So I waited and waited and did NOT see a refund.... I had to call TigerDirect to find out they had placed MY MONEY as a store credit, I HAD TO REQUEST A REFUND AND WAIT ANOTHER 3-5 business days to actually GET MY MONEY BACK!!!
They were VERY rude over the phone and said it is ONLY ME that this has happened to, I must have requested a store credit, an isolated incident... WHEN I ASKED WHY TWICE, they blamed ME!!
brutus001
What's more, "products missing UPC codes or serial numbers from the box are not returnable."
this is kind of a no-brainer, though.  newegg, as well as other retailers, sell many things with large mail-in rebates that require the original UPC.  i know i don't want to buy a product without the UPC.
dmcmeans
I have returned a digital camera to Amazon successfully and found the return process to be smooth. The camera was defective in that it would not focus consistently at all zoom levels so it wasn't a "I just didn't like it" return. To be as fair as I could to Amazon, I bought the replacement camera from them.
jaspers
I bought a TV at Dell and got free shipping. Deal? Yeah, except I did not like the TV. Why did I keep it? Well first off the return policy was 21 days, 15% restocking, return freight, plus that free shipping is not free when you return, you have to pay for it if you decide you don't like it. Yes, I mean I suddenly had to pay for the shipping TO my house as well!

Most liberal return policy is definitely Costco. I will buy there any time, I will even pay a premium. BTW their Amex is fee free plus extends your warranty an extra year.
stevenmatrix
Yes, Costco is good, but very limited selection.  What about Amazon?
dealguy
Costco. Does anyone have a more liberal return policy than Costco?
http://shop.costco.com/...mer-Service/Returns.aspx
stevenmatrix
Thanks for news.  Can you also make a list of the retailers with the best and most liberal return policies?
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