Free online returns going away as retailers change return policies

The days of free returns are coming to an end as 60 percent of retailers have changed their return policies with more expected.

Many are now charging for return shipping and restocking fees, or shortening return windows from 90 days to 60, and quite often to 30.

Why? They want to discourage returns, as high inflation and rising shipping prices are driving up their costs.

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"Now more charge for returns than they used to, two years ago. We’re still the in range of five or ten dollars. So there’s not a hike in the price itself, but you should definitely expect to pay for returns more often than two years ago," explained Julian Krenge, founder of parcelLab.

For example, Anthropologie, REI, LL Bean, Dillard’s, and J. Crew are among retailers deducting a fee for online returns, ranging from $3 to $8.

Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic, and J. Crew, for example, have shortened their return windows.


The good news, Krenge says, is that many retailers are expected to offer a holiday reprieve with free returns or flexible return windows.

"This holiday season, extensions of the return window and offering more free returns during the holiday season probably will remain high. But probably not as high and omnipresent as the last two years," said Krenge. 

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"But I think we can expect early next year, this will be back rather sooner than later," Krenge added, saying expect more return fees after the new year.

To avoid return fees, check the return policy before you buy. Shop from retailers that offer free returns if you take it to the store and shop in-store when possible. Being able to see an item in person reduces the surprises that can come with online orders.