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Financial Wellness

How to Avoid Return Fees From Major Retailers

Online shopping has long been a breeze for getting everything from clothes and accessories to electronics and home goods—especially if you can re-pack anything you don't want and send it back at no charge.

This has turned your home into a private dressing room or a place to try things out before fully committing to them. But hold on—things might be changing. Some stores are nixing free returns and slapping on charges for return shipping or restocking fees that eat into your refund.

While not all these fees are new, the number of merchants that charge them has increased. According to logistics company Happy Returns, more than 80% of retailers charge for certain return options.

Here are some popular retailers' online return fees in 2024:

  • Abercrombie: $7
  • Amazon: $1 (for some UPS returns)
  • Anthropologie: $5.95
  • Backcountry: $6.99
  • DSW: $8.50 (free for VIP Gold and VIP Elite members)
  • H&M: $5.99 (free for H&M members)
  • J.Crew: $7.50
  • Macy's: $9.99 (free for Star Rewards members)
  • Nike: Varies by shipper (free for Nike members)
  • REI: $5.99
  • Wayfair: $4.99 or more

Some major retailers, including Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Athleta, Nordstrom, Sephora, and Lululemon, still offer free returns for online purchases. Others, like Williams-Sonoma, require customers to pay for return shipping on some orders.

Retailers Crack Down on Return Abuse

Retailers are stepping up efforts to curb problematic returns.

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. retailers employ third-party loss-prevention services to track risky return behavior. While not necessarily fraudulent, this behavior mimics or could be linked to fraudulent activity.

The leading third-party loss-prevention service is The Retail Equation, a software provider that tracks return behavior that retailers deem potentially fraudulent. It generates return scores to shoppers-based retailer-provided data, enabling the software to bypass a store's return policy. This can result in leaving shoppers with denied refunds and a printed notice directing them to The Retail Equation's website for explanations on blocked returns.

Many shoppers, however, are unaware they are being tracked, leaving many feeling blindsided when they get to a return counter and are told they are not getting their money back. Worse still—some face bans from returning products to the store altogether.

Several now-dismissed lawsuits and Better Business Bureau complaints highlight customer claims of adhering to store returns policy yet receiving warnings. Some customers disputed the accuracy of the information found in their report given by The Retail Equation, complaining about a lack of recourse until after their return was rebuffed.

Tips for dodging return fees

The best way to avoid return fees is to minimize the likelihood that you'll need to make returns in the first place.

Plan your purchases wisely. Research items thoroughly before purchasing, read return policies carefully, and resist impulse buying. Avoid buying things simply because they're on sale or just to try if you're unsure you'll keep them. When shopping online, factor return fees into the total cost of your order.

Join retailer loyalty or membership programs. As noted above, many retailers waive return shipping and/or restocking fees for members. In most cases, simply sign in for a free account and log in before making a purchase. Some loyalty programs have additional benefits if you hit certain spending thresholds. You might receive numerous marketing emails in return, but it's a minor inconvenience for the privilege of enjoying free returns and other perks.

Return items in-store. Most retailers that charge for online returns will allow free in-store returns. If there's a brick and mortar near you, bypass the fee by returning your item in person. Amazon accepts returns at Kohl's, Whole Foods, and Amazon Fresh locations.

Resell items. If your return window has passed or the refund you'll receive is significantly offset by the fee (for small-ticket purchases, for example), consider reselling, donating, or regifting the item instead of returning it.

Resources:, Lifehacker, News Nation