"Restocking fees, which can be as high as 50 percent the cost of an item, are often charged by companies to cover the costs of returns to their stores. Electronics retailers charge the fees on items that have been opened because once the boxes are open the store can no longer sell the item as "brand new." In other cases, retailers may charge a restocking fee in order to cover penalties imposed on the store by manufacturers.
Regardless of whether or not restocking fees are being charged for legitimate reasons, many states have rules regarding how customers must be notified about the fees. For example, in New York customers cannot be charged for restocking fees without clear disclosure before the purchase is made. In 2005, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) charged seven retailers a total of $4,250 for failing to properly disclose their restocking fee. The companies charged were American Design Furniture, Best Buy, Best C&N Furniture, Bombay Company, Futon Warehouse, and Sharper Image.
A report issued in 2005 by the Public Advocate for the City of New York found that 44 percent of stores surveyed charged restocking fees. While some retailers charge based on a percentage on the purchase, others charged a set amount. The report cited a mattress retailer who charged a flat $200 restocking fee. According to the authors of the report, "A consumer who purchases a $300 mattress at this store would only receive $100 back upon return."
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Other states may have their own rules and regulations regarding restocking fees. Like New York, California has a law stating that if retailers charge a restocking fee, customers must be notified of the return policy prior to making their purchase. Companies that violate state laws regarding retail returns may be held liable to the customer. Consumers could be eligible for actual damages and punitive damages if the courts deem the company's violations to be serious.
If you have been unfairly or unreasonably charged a restocking fee, contact a lawyer to discuss your options.