Will Free Returns Become a Thing of the Past?

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KEY POINTS

  • Free returns entice more shoppers to order items online because they won't have to worry about spending money if they need to make a return.
  • However, some retailers are doing away with free returns and are now charging fees for customers who do returns by mail.
  • See if you can return items to a store location, as it is usually free to do so.

If you plan to return an online order by mail, it may cost you.

When shopping with your favorite retailers online, scoring free shipping can be a big win for your wallet. Another service that some retailers offer is free returns. This service makes shopping online convenient because you don't have to worry about wasting money if you need to return a purchase. But could free returns become a thing of the past? It's possible.

Some retailers are saying goodbye to free returns

If you're like me, the word free is enticing. I love shopping with retailers that offer free shipping. Since I'm picky about what I wear, I also try to always order from companies offering free returns. That way, there's no stress if an item doesn't fit or I don't like what I ordered.

But some retailers are changing their policies and no longer allow customers to return products by mail at no cost. Instead, there may be a higher order minimum set to qualify for free returns, or you may need to pay to send things back. If you're not aware of these changes, you may be in for a surprise.

Here are a few retailers and the return fees that they charge:

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  • Abercrombie & Fitch: $7 fee to return by mail or free in-store returns
  • American Eagle: For non free-return items, $5 to return by mail or free in-store returns
  • H&M: $5.99 fee to return with USPS or free in-store returns
  • JCPenney: $8 fee to return by mail or free in-store returns
  • J.Crew: $7.50 to return by mail or free in-store returns
  • Zara: $3.95 fee to return by mail or free in-store returns

Unless you return in-store, the fee will be deducted from the money you're owed. If your budget doesn't have much wiggle room, reviewing each retailer's return policy is essential before placing an online order.

My recent experience returning an online order

A couple of months ago, I made a large purchase with an online retailer I order from at least a few times a year. Since I was spending a significant amount of money, I didn't think to review their current return policy. I was used to being offered free returns on my orders.

It turns out that they had updated their policy, and my return would no longer be free. When I went to start the return process, I was told it would cost me $5. Sure, $5 isn't a huge deal -- but it would impact my bank account balance. Luckily, I was given the option to make an in-store return for free -- so I did that to save myself some money.

How to avoid return fees

It's possible to avoid extra fees like this if you shop strategically. Most retailers offer free returns if you return items in-store. While this isn't as convenient as throwing your return in the mailbox, it could save you money. Of course, this option will only be available to you if you have a local store nearby.

To avoid unwanted surprises, it's a good idea to review each retailer's return policy before placing an order, so you know what to expect. There may have been policy changes since you last ordered. Being in the know could help you keep more money in your wallet.

Are you looking for ways to improve your financial situation? Check out these personal finance resources for helpful guidance.

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