Shoppers may want to find the best deals on Black Friday, but in doing so, they may overlook an area where they can be beaten: product returns.

According to a recent survey of 500 retailers by goTRG, a returns management service provider, six out of 10 retailers are changing their returns policies this holiday season. These changes are generally not in favor of consumers, with many stores shortening their return period while adding restocking fees and online returns, said goTRG CEO Sender Shamiss.

These changes may come as a surprise to some shoppers who have become accustomed to the generous return policies common during the pandemic as retailers eased their guidelines to give consumers more freedom. For example, Kohl’s and Bloomingdale’s have extended their 2020 return windows by an additional 30 and 90 days, respectively.

But retailers are now dealing with inventory overload and a slowing economy, causing some to tighten up their policies. Top priority for Black Friday shoppers: check the return policy before you buy to avoid any unwanted surprises, experts say.

“Now retailers are saying, ‘We don’t care if customers cause this crazy returns nightmare that we can’t afford,'” Shamiss said.

He added that retail executives are concerned about the strength of the economy “and are making sure their policies serve their businesses in the best possible way.”

Shorter window on Amazon

Among the changes this year at major retailers: Amazon, which says customers who purchased products between October 11 and December 25 can return them until January 31, 2023. shorter window than last yearwhen buyers could return items purchased between October 1 and December 31, 2021 until January 31, 2022.

Some retailers now charge customers for online returns, although they usually don’t charge for items brought back to brick-and-mortar stores. This can help reduce costs for retailers while encouraging more people to visit the store where they may be tempted to purchase additional items when making a return.

“Low-hanging fruit is changing the return policy,” said Shamiss. “As e-commerce matures, they’re starting to roll back those extremely liberal rules that used to be around returns.”

For example, H&M charges a $5.99 return shipping fee to the US, which is deducted from the customer’s refund when they return the item. The store noted that the policy is not new, but may start testing online return fees in some European markets as well.

Zara earlier this year started charging $3.95 for online returns, although there is no charge when consumers return online purchases to a brick-and-mortar location.

“We’ve gotten used to these incredibly long return policies” during the pandemic, Shamiss said. “None of it exists anymore.”

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