Ten Tips for Hassle-Free Tech Merchandise Returns

Act Fast!

Okay, so geeks in cars can't help you dispose of three extra digital cameras. The key to a quick and easy return is simple: Don't dawdle. For electronics returns, stores generally give you less time--and make you jump through more hoops--than they do for other items. The good news is that most retailers have holiday return policies that are less stringent than their standard policies--and in 2008, as sellers struggle to attract customers, some policies are even more lenient than the ones in effect in 2007.

Circuit City, for example, has further relaxed its usual 14-day return policy: For products purchased between November 2 and December 24, 2008, consumers have until January 31, 2009, to bring or mail the items back to the store (last time they had until January 8). Amazon.com will accept returns for merchandise bought between November 1 and December 31, 2008, until January 31, 2009.

Best Buy's holiday return policy is more strict--and more complicated. Generally, merchandise bought between November 1 and December 24, 2008, can be returned through January 24, 2009. However, monitors, projectors, digital cameras, camcorders, radar detectors, and video games purchased used must be returned within two weeks of Christmas--January 8, 2009. Desktop and laptop PCs must be returned no later than 14 days "from date merchandise is received." And certain purchases, including opened software, music, movies, and video games, are subject to Best Buy's standard 14-day online return policy.

For electronics, Costco is sticking to the 90-day return policy it instituted last year. It has set no window for other types of merchandise.

Don't Open Anything

Stores typically have several requirements for handing over a full refund. The first, and most important, is that the box be sealed.

If the box is open, the retailer will need to test the gadget to ensure that it's in full working order--which means that accepting your return will cost the company time and money. Unfortunately, that in turn means it will cost you money, too.

Best Buy and Circuit City both charge a 15 percent restocking fee on most opened electronics. Amazon.com charges a 15 percent restocking fee on opened laptops and desktops.

If you have opened the box, be certain that it's full before you head to the store. "Make sure you bring everything back in. If there are any accessories missing, a wire or anything, you'll probably need to go back home to get it," says Best Buy's Dudash. "I've had to do that before."

Circuit City will deduct the cost of each missing item from your refund. For exchanges, the retailer will simply replace what you've brought (a manual for a manual, a cable for a cable), so you're on your own for whatever piece you've left behind.

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