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The reason you pick for returning an item can affect how much money you get back.

Compared to other retailers, Amazon has been thriving during lockdown. Their dominance and often low prices means you’ve probably bought something from the online giant over the last few months – even if, like me, you’ve been trying to support local businesses.

But what happens if you don’t want or need something you’ve purchased? Well it’s pretty easy to return something online.

It’s just a few clicks to get things started, but one of the steps is more important than you probably realise. Early on you’ll be asked to select the reason why you want to make the return. You might not pay this much attention. But you should.

You’ll be able to choose from a selection of options – but not all are equal. In fact, three of them could end up costing you money.

So how do you avoid these hidden traps and ensure you’re not getting charged for your unwanted purchases? First, a little about Amazon’s return policy.

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Amazon’s returns policy

As with most online purchases from any retailer, you’ve 14 days after you get the goods to return them. You don’t have to justify the return. In most cases, Amazon actually extends this period to 30 days.

And post lockdown it’s been extended too. You can return anything bought between 15th February and 31st May 2020 until the 30th June.

A few items can’t be returned, generally anything that’s been customised or is perishable. You also can’t return media (such as CDs or DVDs) that have had their seal broken. You can read about these and a few other exemptions on Amazon’s site.

But just because you can return a purchase within this time, it doesn’t mean it’ll be free.

When Amazon will charge you to return an item

There are three options you can choose which will mean you will get your refund minus £3.99. These are:

  • Accidental order
  • Better price available
  • No longer needed

The first one is easy to do with Amazon’s “One Click” buying option. I know I’ve accidentally hit that button when browsing but realised in time to cancel the order before dispatch. But if you’ve not realised until the package arrives at your front door Amazon wants to charge you the cost of sending it back.

This is possibly also the option you’d choose for any mistakes you made – perhaps you selected the wrong colour or didn’t properly read the description.

The common theme with the other two options is that you’d rather not keep the purchase, either because you want to pick it up for less elsewhere or you simply changed your mind. In each of these instances, Amazon is saying yes you can get your money back, but we’re going to charge you for having to bring the items back to the warehouse.

However, it is possible to avoid these charges by choosing one of the other options instead.

When Amazon won’t charge you to return an item

Now if you’ve brought something that is broken or faulty then Amazon has to either offer you a replacement or a full refund. And you’ll also get the delivery cost back. You will have to explain how it or the packaging is broken.

You can also get a free return and full refund if an item has arrived after it’s estimated despatch time. This is a really useful one. I think lots of people shop on Amazon for the fast delivery, often when they’ve left something to the last minute. And if a delay means you get something too late, then it’s worth returning the items and getting the full refund.

But what if it’s not damaged or arrived on time? Well, there are alternatives reasons you can pick which you can choose, including the following.

  • Incompatible or not useful for the intended purpose
  • Performance or quality not adequate
  • Description on website was not accurate
  • Unauthorised purchase

I think the first three here are all justifiable selections if what you’ve bought isn’t what you hoped it would be. I wouldn’t use unauthorised purchase unless this really has happened – which could well happen if you’ve got kids talking to your Alexa smart speaker!

A final group where you can get free returns, and all your money back, is anything categorised as clothes, shoes, jewellery or watches. With these you have to be able to try something on, so it’s near on impossible to know if it’s the right thing just from an online order. If you’re not with Prime, these are also handy extras to add to an order to get you free delivery.

If you paid for speedier delivery

One caveat with these reasons for returning is that you’ll only get the cost of the cheapest delivery refunded. Now, if you’re a Prime member buying from Amazon then this is irrelevant as you won’t have been charged delivery.

But non-Prime members, or anyone buying from a third party might have paid extra. Of course, if the item is faulty you’ll get all the money back.

What if you’ve ordered from a small retailer via Amazon

It’s worth noting that the refund rules apply across all of Amazon. But not everything you buy with the retailer is actually sold by them. It might not even be dispatched by them.

When you buy from these third parties, they’ll obviously have to shoulder the costs of returns. And this can make quite a difference to their profit margins, which are often quite thin. 

So if you are returning the item because it genuinely is one of the chargeable reasons, consider whether you really should opt for a free option instead.

If it’s sold and fulfilled by Amazon though I’d say it’s fair game to get them to fund the return costs.

How to return purchases to Amazon

It’s actually very easy. Go to the orders section of your Amazon account and find the item you want to send back. Choose one of the reasons above which gives you free returns, then select whether you want a replacement or a refund.

If you choose refund you can have the money put back on your payment card or added to your Amazon account. Credit to your account will happen as soon as the item is received. If you choose your card it’ll be 5 to 7 days after that happens.

Then you’ll be able to choose your return option. You’ve got a few choices.

You can drop your parcel off at Hermes, Doddle, Royal Mail or at an Amazon Locker. With some of these you don’t even need a label, as they can be provided when you hand over your package.

In the past I’ve used Doddle (which was hidden in the basement of my local Debenhams or the customer services desk at Next) and I didn’t even need to box the items up. These options might not be available while there are restrictions on entry to shops.

There’s also an option with Hermes to have an item collected, which is really handy for anything large or heavy. Bear in mind if you are paying for the return this will cost more.

Read more about Amazon and your consumer rights on the blog

Changed your mind? Your refund rights

Tricks to save more money at Amazon


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