Online shopping sites that don't have a brick-and-mortar store in your area may provide a "free" shipping label but the shipping itself isn't. Though certainly easier to use then making your own label and standing in line at the post office, pre-paid labels can charge upwards of $7.00--no matter how small the package may be. That can really add up--if you return ten items, that's a total cost of $70. And if you have to return more than that when the unfortunate situation arises where you heard, "I'd like a new shirt," when it was actually, "I'd like a new skirt," you could be looking at closer to $100 or more in return shipping costs for pre-paid labels. You might feel like you're saving time and money by not trudging out to the store and paying for gas, but essentially, you could end up costing yourself more than the $5.00 it would have cost you to drive to and from the mall in one day.
There's also the problem of receiving the wrong items when you shop online; this happens with more frequency as e-retailers become inundated this holiday season, and though it's a costly hassle to have to return anything through the mail, the real danger comes with things like perishable food items.
Just like with clothing, sports equipment...even cars (!), you can also buy food items online as well. Maybe you find a good deal or a unique item you can't find in a store. Whatever it is, understand that if you get the wrong food item, or are accidentally sent too many of what you ordered, you may have to literally swallow the cost. Certainly, you can call customer service and request a refund. But more than likely, especially with perishable food items, the best the vendor can offer is a store (or site) credit. Why? Because perishable food items are typically non-returnable, so non-refundable. Once again, read the fine print....
And though some of this seems like common sense, in the flurry of activity that comes with every holiday, it's easy to rush through and miss important details. I know I have, and more than once!
Tomorrow night is the first night of Chanukah. It's only 24 days until Christmas. Kwanzaa follows close behind with New Years on Kwanzaa's heels. We all strive to make the holidays merry and bright for our loved ones, but we shouldn't do it at the expense of our wallets, and, our wits. Keeping track of returns by mail is practically a part-time job. Trying to balance your checkbook or credit card statement when you have things coming and going can be dizzying as well. Though online shopping is a happy advent for those of us who can't carry large items with ease or who don't want to face the crowds at this time of year, there is still a caveat, dear emptor.
When shopping online, here are a few helpful hints to make YOUR holidays a little less stressful:
-Always look for sites that offer free shipping AND returns.
-If you get free shipping but not returns, consider using your own label to avoid the higher-cost of a pre-paid label.
-Avoid purchasing perishable food items.
-Print out your receipt and keep it close by in case you have to reference it quickly.
-If an item is received damaged, contact Customer Service immediately and ask for free return shipping; you shouldn't have to pay to return a damaged item.
-If using a "Bill to-Ship to" service, where you order a gift online and have it delivered to another person's address, be sure to track the package (all online shopping sites should provide you with tracking information--if they can't, don't or won't--avoid purchasing with them). Once you know the item has been delivered, contact the recipient to ask about the condition of the product. We'd all love for gift-giving to be this seamless, pleasant experience and may cringe at the thought of calling the recipient to ask about the package--but if you paid an extra $6.00 for gift wrap and a card and neither were included, you need to know so you can contact Customer Service about a refund as soon as possible.
-When returning items from online sites, be sure to know the specifics of their return policy. Some sites request an item returned with original packaging and tags within as little as 14 days from receipt. You may also find yourself just shy of the 30 or 60 day return policy more common to larger e-retailers like Bluefly (60 days) and QVC (30 days). If you're a few days after the return period, you can just send the package back and it should be accepted. But if you were traveling or had a family emergency and missed the deadline by more than a week, contact Customer Service to ask about return authorizations.
-Some sites require "Return Authorizations" for any items BEFORE you send it back. If you don't have a return authorization, you may not get your full refund.
-And finally, keep track of your return credits on your bank or credit card statement. Mistakes happen--especially at this time of year. And you don't want or need to lose money because of an oversight. Call Customer Service using your printed receipt to verify that a return has been received and to learn when the credit will be posted back to your account.
Enjoy your holiday preparations, whether shopping online or in line--and more importantly, enjoy the people who make any holiday truly special.
Happy holidays to all, and to all, a good night!