happy returns

True story: my friend Karen was hankering for a particular style of over-the-knee boots. She found a patent leather pair in her size on sale at Nordstrom and purchased them. They fit well, but she held off on wearing them and ultimately decided she’d prefer the same style boot in suede, which Nordstrom didn’t have. A few days later it went on sale at the designer’s website, so she returned the first pair and ordered the suede version directly from the designer. Unfortunately when they arrived, they were far too large (even though they were the same style and size as the patent leather pair she’d returned). While Nordstrom had accepted the return of the sale merchandise, the pair ordered from the designer’s website were marked as Final Sale, No Returns.

I do a good bit of my wardrobe shopping online for a number of reasons, time and online availability of merchandise in Petite sizes being the primary two. Regrets, I’ve had a few, as the song goes. But I’ve learned to suss out which retailers make returns easy and tend to stick with them when I have options of where to purchase a particular item.

Shipping it back. Some retailers like Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Zappos.com offer free shipping and free returns (within certain time frames). Some retailers will provide a pre-paid shipping label, but deduct a specified shipping cost from your refund. It’s always good to check how much you’ll be dinged for return shipping; occasionally you might save a few dollars by shipping yourself (but be sure you use a method that provides tracking and keep tracking information).

In-store returns. Many department stores and chains will accept in-store returns of online orders. If you have the particular stores close enough, it may be the most efficient way to return. Your refund will often be processed faster too. As a courtesy to the Sales Associates, I always try to avoid bringing in returns during busiest hours if possible. Be sure to have the credit card with you used to place the order. Some will need it, some won’t.

Things to consider. I always read through a retailer’s return policies thoroughly before I order for the first time. Watch out for things like “restocking fees” which will deduct a percentage of the purchase price from your refund (I’ve seen as high as 30% even if returned within 30 days, though I think savvy retailers have mostly dropped these). Do they provide shipping labels (whether for a fee or not) or require you to be wholly responsible for shipping back? Is merchandise being shipped from another country, and will returns be complicated and/or expensive? Is all sale merchandise considered “Final Sale”? (Sometimes this will be clear only once you have begun purchase process.)

Do your part. Be sure to save the original packaging until you’ve made the final decision to keep the items; sometimes there are barcode stickers on the packaging which will help retailers process the return faster. Keep all tags on; some retailers will not accept if tags have been removed. Be sure to include any forms and return authorization codes as per the retailer’s return policy. Be sure the package is sealed properly if shipping back. I’ve never known anyone personally whom this has happened to, but have read that some retailers may put “serial returners” on a list and either prevent them from ordering or returning purchases. I return probably 3/4 of what I order (often I’ll order multiple sizes, especially with footwear), so I think it would probably have to be pretty egregious, but it doesn’t hurt to be mindful.

If you’re removed tags and worn an item, (or it was on Final Sale) but you discover it’s defective or not as described, call the customer service line before attempting to return. Usually a calm, courteous tone and clear explanation of the problem will yield best results. The good news for Karen? She did just that with her “Final Sale” boots and the company agreed to take them back, based on the inconsistent sizing. She’s still without the boots, but at least isn’t out the $$ and stuck with a pair that’s too big.

Do you have any tips or recommendations for handling returns?


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  1. plutrell
    January 26, 2015 / 5:12 am

    On one hand, I love to order online…on the other hand, I don’t. I am able to find better deals online than usually in store, but it does take time and effort to do a return. It just depends on the day how I feel about it. I am between sizes right now and fit is a challenge…sometime it is just better to get to the dressing room and get it done. You are right, we have to pay very close attention to the online rules.

  2. Susan
    January 26, 2015 / 6:25 am

    I have one comment about online or catalog orders from Neiman Marchus. While they do offer “free shipping”, they charge a processing fee. At least they did the last time I ordered from them. To me, that is not free shipping!

    • une femme
      January 26, 2015 / 6:46 am

      Susan, did they charge a processing fee when they shipped to you, or when you returned an item?

  3. Susan
    January 26, 2015 / 7:01 am

    The processing fee was charged when they shipped to me. I live very close to Neiman Marcus in Dallas. I always make my returns at the store.

  4. January 26, 2015 / 7:12 am

    I am still somewhat nervous about ordering online, unless it is something I have seen or tried on in a store. I have taken some risks on vintage pieces I really coveted and found excellent service and results on Vestaire Collective. I think living in a city where the store is 5 minutes away makes ordering on-line and having to return more time consuming than going to the store itself. These are really great suggestions and actually will help me to feel safer doing online ordering (and for sure there are great deals).

    Accidental Icon

  5. January 26, 2015 / 7:25 am

    I live in the country and buy mostly online and return anything that isn’t just right. I too was charged a processing fee from Neimans Last Call when I returned an item. Sierra Trading Post sent me an email stating I was returning too much (60%). I was taking too many chances and getting lured by all the daily deals so I cut way back in shopping and returning from them. I need pants with a straight cut through the hips and thighs and a high rise – very hard to find. I do best shopping with 6 pm (Zappos discount arm) which has free shipping but returns are pricey. They provide so much information on their web site that I rarely need to return anything. I get most of my Miraclebody, NYDJ and Jag jeans there at good prices. I also get a lot from Nordstrom – their service is excellent – I worried about returning too much from them but I feel better after your post.

  6. Kathy
    January 26, 2015 / 7:28 am

    I prefer to buy as much as I can locally. This supports and pays salaries that bolster local ecconomies. I think this is more important than online deals that may or may not fit, be returnable or a hassle. Just my preference, no guilt. The added bonus is I try everything on and so I have to think it’s a ten in fit and wardrobe inclusion before I buy.

  7. January 26, 2015 / 9:27 am

    I have ordered two different home furnishings items, one a lamp and the other wall art. They arrived and just were not right. Yes, the site, one of the big ones who sends out daily emails with lots of new things…, said not returnable from the beginning. But I called and was pleasant and explained they just were not right. They readily accepted my returns (after, of course, charging for the return mailing) and have thus gained a loyal customer. Sometimes, but not always, it can be the tone of voice and general attitude!

  8. Susan
    January 26, 2015 / 9:52 am

    It is possible that Last Call (owned by Neiman Marcus) has different policies than Neiman Marcus proper as their items are (supposedly) deeply discounted. I WAS taken aback to be charged a processing fee on shipment TO me as they were advertising free shipping. I had enjoyed shopping from the NM catalog as they carry things not offered in their store. I was bothered enough by what I saw as bait and switch (the process fee) that I stopped ordering from the catalog, After a while, they stopped sending me their catalogs and I do miss them. I read that NM was purchased by a private equity firm and I know that these firms do endeavor to squeeze every bit of profit they can–thus the processing fee.

    • une femme
      January 26, 2015 / 10:18 am

      Susan, that might be the case. I’ve always had free shipping when I’ve ordered from NM; usually they have a Promo code to enter at checkout. A few months ago I signed up for Shoprunner, which provides free 2-day shipping.

  9. Rita
    January 26, 2015 / 10:15 am

    Seeing this article reminds me – a friend worked for Neiman Marcus. A woman came in with an item she was returning. When my friend entered the woman’s name, a message popped up on the screen, “This woman returns everything”! Of course, they continue to accept everything she returns, but at least it give the sales rep a heads-up, especially when the woman makes a large purchase, it tells the rep not to count on the commission!

  10. Susan
    January 26, 2015 / 10:43 am

    I returned very little of what I purchased at NM, so I do not think the processing fee was related to the frequency of my returns. And, if they are going to charge a processing fee, they should be transparent about it. Perhaps there were complaints and they are no longer charging this. It would be good to know.

  11. Susan
    January 26, 2015 / 10:48 am

    I decided to do a bit of research on Neiman Marcus and found this: http://www.consumeraffairs.com/retail/neiman_marcus.html

    Also, I always used the Promo codes for free shipping and still had the processing charge. I even live in the same city with their main warehouse!

  12. January 26, 2015 / 12:07 pm

    I recently ordered an Eileen Fisher Tropical Suiting jacket on sale for a mere $105.00, such a deal! However, I gave the jacket the sniff test (yes, I smell clothing!) and found a perfumed odor in the underarm area. Methinks a return, and the jacket was somewhat wrinkled, as if worn. The tag is on the inside collar, which tells me it can be worn without tags showing.

    My dilemma, do I have the jacket dry cleaned before wearing, or return it? Any advice? I’m just plain disappointed.

  13. Duchesse
    January 26, 2015 / 12:27 pm

    Good summary, I’d only add: if returning to a foreign country (I usually am) always insure package, and keep your proof. Also if ordering from for example, France, the price is converted into your currency and on return, also credited in your currency BUT one rate is the buy rate and one is the sell rate so on returns you always get a bit less unless the money market has taken a major swing. I just chalk it up to the price of poker, but it really bothers some shoppers. And I watch for those “free shipping” offers!

  14. Caryn
    January 26, 2015 / 2:21 pm

    This is helpful information! I would add that Bloomingdales has free shipping and returns if you have a credit card with them (and another bonus of the credit card is that their rewards cards and other bonuses add up nicely!) I like the videos on the Saks website, and find that they are helpful in evaluating fit and fabric. The customer reviews on the Nordstrom website are helpful and cut down on shopping mistakes. Shopbop also has free shipping and returns. I wish I had more local stores to support! The ones near me are either geared to teens (Urban Outfitters) or are just not my style (Talbots). JCrew often has promotions and free shipping, though not always.

  15. January 26, 2015 / 10:21 pm

    I shop mostly online since I just don’t have the time to look around the stores even though there usually are better deals in store. I tend to buy things with stores that have friendly return policies.


  16. January 31, 2015 / 6:02 pm

    Good post. When ordering online (my usual method for clothing and footwear purchases), I stick to brands I know will work. Of course my favorite is Rick Owens. While traveling, I was able to test the fit in a specialty boutique before ever ordering online. Now I order with confidence. I’ve never had to return a single Rick Owens item because the sizing and quality are consistent. Basically, I play it safe! However, I’d like to branch out and try other labels – but because sizing can be perplexing, I don’t bother until I can buy in person first. I only order from retailers that are tried and true. As for in-store shopping, though, you can’t beat Nordstrom for easy returns, no questions asked.

  17. Linda
    February 2, 2015 / 11:17 pm

    I do a most of my wardrobe shopping online. I am also a petite size, and there is so very little available in bricks and mortar stores… I often have to order multiple sizes for trying on, so returns are inevitable. I prefer to order from stores like Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, who offer the best and most economical shipping policies to-and-fro. I order direct from vendors like Eileen Fisher–from whom shipping is quite expensive, with no provision for returns–ONLY when I can’t find the item at Nordstrom or NM, both of whom who provide a more reasonable (to me) concession for returns. It’s all a big pain, to be honest. But that’s the lot for those of us who aren’t a standard size (in my case, just over 5′ tall, and shrinking!).

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