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Better Business Bureau

BBB tip: Your guide to hassle-free returns for online purchases


Online shopping is growing, which means online returns are increasing, too. However, policies and processes vary from store to store. Figuring out how to get your item back to the seller and your refund in the bank isn’t always easy. To make the process as smooth as possible, BBB recommends the following.
• Check store policies before you buy. This is the number one way to avoid an unsatisfactory return experience. Usually, retailers are not required to have a specific refund, credit, or exchange policy. It’s up to you to find out what refund rights you have. Search the retailer’s website for their return and refund policy to determine your options. If the retailer doesn’t have one, consider it a red flag.
• Read the fine print. Even if a store has a reasonable return policy, it might not be free. Some stores charge a restocking fee or make you pay the cost of return shipping. Find out what will be required of you if you want to return a product before you purchase by carefully reading the entire return policy.
• Verify the seller. Some online retailers allow third-party sellers on their platforms. So, if you are purchasing from Amazon, double-check to see if the product is coming from Amazon or a different seller. If you discover you’ll be purchasing from a third party, research their return policies before you buy.
• Read consumer reviews. Search consumer reviews for any experiences with returns or refunds. If you find several customers had difficulty returning or receiving a refund, know that you run the same risk. You can look at reviews on the seller’s website but be sure to check other sources, too, like
• Check the return policy before using an alternative payment method. Check the fine print before paying through PayPal or a “buy now, pay later” installment service. For example, you may be unable to return those online purchases to a store.
• Save your order confirmation number and receipt. Keep these documents and store them in a safe place for the time your purchase is eligible for a return. You may need them when dealing with customer service later.
• Save the packaging. Even if an open item can be returned, keep the packaging, including tags, manuals, and other paperwork. These extras may be required if a store only accepts “like new” or “original” condition items for return.
• Check before returning an item to the store. Many stores allow you to return something you bought online to a brick-and-mortar location – but not every retailer and product. Some retailers only allow certain items to be returned in-store, while others must be returned by mail
• If you need help with a problem, contact customer service. Reputable businesses want to keep their customers happy. If you are having trouble with a return, contact the customer service department or a manager and calmly ask for help. They may be willing to work with you even if an issue with your product arises after the return policy expires.
• Watch out for scams. If you purchase from a fraudulent seller, you won’t be able to exchange your product or get a refund. Some legitimate-looking websites con consumers by offering tracking numbers on PayPal purchases but never deliver the promised product. Keep an eye out for fake websites and steer clear.
For more information, read the BBB Tip: Smart Shopping Online for more tips on online purchases at In addition, review BBB’s tips for the safe delivery of your online purchases.
Kelvin Collins is president & CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the Fall Line Corridor, serving 77 counties in East Alabama, West Georgia, Southwest Georgia, Central Georgia, East Georgia, and Western South Carolina. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the International Association of Better Business Bureaus (IABBB). The Better Business Bureau sets standards for ethical business behavior, monitors compliance and helps consumers identify trustworthy businesses. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at Phone: 1-800-763-4222, Web site: or E-mail: info@central