[CNN] Free returns are going away


By Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN
Updated 12:17 PM EST, Tue December 26, 2023

New York (CNN) —

If you’re thinking of sending back a disappointing gift you just received over the holidays, the return may bring even more disappointment.

Americans have grown accustomed to free returns, but a growing number of retailers are charging fees as returns squeeze retailers’ bottom lines.

Macy’s, Abercrombie, J. Crew, H&M and other companies have all added shipping fees for mail-in returns.

And it’s not just the big mall brands, either. Eighty-one precent of merchants are now charging a fee for at least some methods of returns, according to Happy Returns, a logistics company that specializes in returns.

Amazon has started charging customers a $1 fee if they return items to a UPS store when there is a Whole Foods, Amazon Fresh grocery store or Kohl’s closer to their delivery address. (Amazon owns Whole Foods and Fresh, and has a partnership deal with Kohl’s.)

Amazon also recently started flagging “frequently returned” products on its website. Amazon is adding the badge to product listings on items with “significantly higher return rates for their product category,” a spokesperson said.

Return rates have spiked in recent years as shoppers buy more online. Shoppers are likelier to return purchases they haven’t seen or tried on in person, experts say.

Customers sent back nearly 17% of the total merchandise they purchased in 2022, totaling $816 billion, according to data from the National Retail Federation. That was up from 8% in 2019.

Companies have to cover costly shipping fees in order for customers to send their products back. Those items sometimes wind up back in retailers’ warehouses or on shelves. Stores then have to mark down returned goods to sell them, further squeezing their profit. All of that hurts companies’ profit.

More often, returned products can end up in liquidation warehouses or even landfills, which are an environmental threat.

In some cases, stores are letting customers keep their returns instead of sending them back – low-priced bulky items like furniture, kitchen appliances, home decor, baby chairs, walkers, strollers and other items where it’s costly for the retailer to cover the shipping cost for the return.

Americans increased their spending this holiday season, but at a slower pace than last year. Retail sales increased 3.1% from Nov. 1 to Dec. 24 compared with the same period a year earlier, according to data released Tuesday from Mastercard SpendingPulse, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment.


We need to get America off this “free” concept. Nothing is free, it is just consumer/seller subsidized waste.

Corporate greed cashing in on overwhelming consumer laziness.


I noticed that just bringing a return to the UPS Store for them to pack up and return to Amazon is also gone, at least when we just tried it was. Must be boxed up and ready to go.

Don’t remember hearing about that before.

I’ll gladly eat the cost for the 1 refund in exchange for the 50 buyers that don’t return it that buy online because of the customer centric policy.

Catering to the stupid and lazy is how you make money in today’s world. Sad, but that’s just how it is.


Yeah I noticed the last time I did an ups return it wanted the item boxed up. I wonder if there was too much theft after items were dropped off. I had two different occasions where I dropped off an item and amazon never received it back, but luckily I had the return receipts to show I dropped it off.

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Free returns went from a trickle of returns to a flood of returns.

The costs went up when Internet shopping became an amusement during the lockdowns, and did not subside when shoppers could and did return to B&M stores.

It doesn’t matter what these merchants try to do, buyers are now trained by social media sites how to avoid paying for returns, and how to avoid returning and still get refunded,

The same skills are required in controlling costs in ways which are not visible to the customer, which many sellers lack in other areas.

Retail is a game for the PROs. The Amateur Hour is no longer broadcasting.

I disagree with the subject of this thread. It is near impossible to put the genie back in the bottle.

The list of merchants in the article all have significant threats to their survival other than returns.


As a shopper convenient returns are a big reason for who I even choose to shop with. I won’t buy anything online from Walmart that I might have to return because 1. I don’t want to go into Walmart, and 2. They do offer free returns, with Walmart it’s done by fedex which means I then have to go to kinkos for the return which has a horrible parking lot. So I just don’t. As a consumer I was super frustrated last time I ordered a clock from Walmart and I knew I wasn’t going to return it because I already had one…and it shipped broken. Then I had to return it before they would even replace the broken item. I should have just gone in store. Amazon just has better policies and so I choose to buy from them.

I don’t buy anything from any store that is at the mall, also because I don’t want to have to go into the mall to return things.

It’s actually news to me that a lot of these “mall stores” offer free returns now because they didn’t years ago and so I’ve just never shopped at those stores….maybe I would have shopped them had I known. I sure never have seen any ads touting free returns for old navy or JCPenney etc. just goes to show how hard it can be to change a shoppers mindset.

Once you burn a shopper they don’t typically go back. I did free ship to store one time at JCPenney before free ship to home was a thing, and they lost my item in the store :unamused:.

Amazon and target is all I shop online and they know they are in a position to start doing whatever they want because it’s likely their customers won’t go elsewhere because they already would be elsewhere if things were different.


Given that the inflation rate is about that (or higher and I’m too lazy/busy to look) that means that actual UNIT SALES were either flat or declined.

Nothing for the economists to brag about and none of the writers seem to understand that concept.

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If I operated a UPS store this would be a huge relief. The spillover effect from these returns means many people just show up with everything else they want to ship, item in hand, don’t even have the address handy, debate all the options, don’t have a box, don’t want to pay for a box… meanwhile I’m standing behind them with my sealed and pre-labeled package for 5 more minutes while they hem and haw.


For better or worse I’m at my UPS Store several times a week. All my labelled items are ready to go and even if there is a line they have me put my stuff either on the counter or set it down where they want it to be.

For my deliveries (I have all inventory shipped there to avoid any porch pirates) if it’s really busy I just drive around back and go in the back door, get my items, and have them sign for it.

I make sure to give them some nice treats at Christmas and I got a nice box of chocolates this year from them as well. It’s amazing what developing those relationships over a decade or more can do!


I’m one of those people who rarely returns stuff, online or B&M.

I think I’ve returned 2 things to Costco over the last 10 years.

Home depot? Only if I get home and it should have been a 1/4-20 bolt and it is actually a 3/8-20, or open the box and parts are missing from something.

Amazon? Yeah I’ve returned things, grossly mis-described, arrived damaged, etc.

I tend to over-buy things to have “stock” on hand business wise, so again, I’m not one of those people who return stuff just cause!


I have long been accustomed to doing this.

Yet another reason why I am accustomed to wearing shinguards to bed… :sweat_smile:

Exactly @dwat0870 !

One of the best tips for new solo ecommerce folks is to find the carrier and their branch that is the most helpful to you, go at about the same day/time every trip, and build mutual trust with the staff on that shift. Combine your services there, too, so have your business mailbox there, do your copies there, schedule pick ups with that branch, and take all of your routine business there.

Building that mutual trust does not have to involve tips or treats–because not all new entrepreneurs can do that materially–but absolutely must include professional respectful behavior, a good faith effort to not only not make their jobs harder but to actually make them easier, and a willingness to ask and learn.

:notes: These are the people in your neighborhood.

They aren’t props in your play, your employees, your subordinates, or your servants. They are (mostly :wink:) not evil agents of corporations or government. They are people, your neighbors and community, trying to do their jobs, just like you are. They have skills and expertise that you do not.


I would flip the script on returns and simply offer discounts for every purchase for a certain return %. Exceed that pre determined % and your discount drops till you get it back up via non returned purchases.

I charge $7 more for a product on Amazon vs. my website that has a higher return rate on amazon. This helps offset the return postage, damaged returns, etc.


I resisted ‘free shipping’ for years but finally caved in since people want stuff for ‘free’.

As I converted ASINs I simply added on a $5 estimated shipping charge PLUS an extra 50 cents or more to every item (and more on larger heavier items).

I don’t normally get many returns so everyone pays extra and it does offset the costs of those that do come back.

Not only that, but for every multiple item purchase it’s a cash cow because every item has that $5+ shipping charge built in. $$$$$$$$$$

Not to get political, but I believe by adding the cost of shipping to a purchase price, instead of separately, buyers are paying more in sales taxes as the cost is rolled into the goods instead of seperated by good and service.

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In some states, the shipping cost is a taxable item under their tax code (as it is in Texas).

Is shipping ever taxed?

Some general rules of thumb for included shipping charges: If the contents of the shipment are taxable, the charges to ship it are taxable. If the contents of the shipment are exempt, the charges to ship it are typically exempt.

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Quite a few states are non taxable apparently. I was always under the impression grocery items and all services are non taxable but that is my ignorance of the states I have been in.

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They are for any buyers in several states and here in WI it costs people 5% and even more in some counties/cities.

Welcome to that ‘free lunch’ you all want!