Making a Lot of Returns on Amazon? Beware This Pitfall

A woman shopping an online sale from her laptop while surrounded by clothes and shoes.

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There's a reason so many people like to shop on Amazon -- both during the holidays and in general. Not only does Amazon tend to offer low prices, but there's something to be said for not having to drag yourself out to the store and pay for gas to get there. Instead, you can order stuff on Amazon and have it shipped to your door for free. And if you change your mind about something you've purchased, you can always just send it back for free.

Or can you? While Amazon usually offers customers free returns, in some cases, you might get stuck paying a fee to send an item back. And that's something you should be aware of before you make your next Amazon purchase.

Repeat returns can result in fees

Often, when you buy something from Amazon, you'll see that it comes with free shipping and returns. But if you get into the habit of returning purchases too frequently, Amazon might start to penalize you.

Such was the case recently for a customer who was charged a 50% restocking fee to return an item that wasn't of good use to her. Amazon told this customer that because she'd returned too many items in the past, she'd potentially face restocking fees for future returns.

So how many returns does it take to get on Amazon's naughty list? It's hard to know. Amazon claims it has different processes in place to determine which customers are taking advantage of its return policy. But it won't commit to a specific number.

For the most part, if you return one item per 15 or 20 Amazon orders, you probably won't get pegged as a serial returner. But if you return every other item you buy, it could raise a red flag.

How to avoid getting charged for Amazon returns

Although many of the items Amazon sells are eligible for free returns, you'll need to make sure the items you're buying fall into that category if you don't want to be charged to send them back. Some third-party sellers on Amazon may have their own individual return policies, so make sure to read the fine print before buying. You should also know that certain types of items, like food, beauty products, and oversized or bulky items, may be more likely to incur a fee for making a return.

If you want to reduce the likelihood of getting slammed with restocking fees, try to purchase products on Amazon judiciously. And also, take advantage of programs like Try Before You Buy, which allows you to order apparel and footwear to try on at home at no cost. If you like the items in question, you can simply check out on Amazon as you usually would. And if you don't like the items, you just send them back within seven days to avoid having your credit card charged.

The whole point of the Try Before You Buy program is to allow consumers to try out products without committing to them. And it's also a good way to help ensure you won't be charged to return items that aren't a good fit. But otherwise, be careful when shopping on Amazon, and consider erring on the side of skipping those items you just aren't sure about.

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We're firm believers in the Golden Rule, which is why editorial opinions are ours alone and have not been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by included advertisers. The Ascent does not cover all offers on the market. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team.John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Maurie Backman has positions in Amazon.com. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Amazon.com. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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