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Amazon return shipping: Get a refund on unwanted items the free and easy way

Amazon's many return shipping options get confusing, fast. Follow these tips to send back items without wasting time or money.

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Don't spend a single penny returning your unwanted Amazon package -- not even on gas.

Angela Lang/CNET

Amazon returns are getting more complicated with more options than ever before. That's good, right? Maybe yes, but maybe no. It's all too easy to click the first return shipping method Amazon offers without thinking twice, but that might not actually be the easiest or most convenient return method for you

That's because Amazon does its best to bury the method you probably want -- the easiest, most convenient and usually free return option -- beneath the retail giant's "preferred" return choices, options that wind up being cheaper for the giant retailer. 

Exhibit A: Amazon recently started accepting free return shipping through Kohl's, which now accepts Amazon returns at its 1,150 department stores. These days, that's usually the first option Amazon offers you. That's a good deal if you happen to frequent Kohl's a lot, but if you don't want to leave the house to make your return -- and honestly, why should you? -- then accidentally clicking this option just adds one more chore to your list. Not cool.

Keep your keister planted right where it is, because I'm going to show you how to return items to Amazon the same way you ordered them -- without ever having to trek beyond your own front door.

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Sure, you could take your Amazon return to your closest Kohl's store, but why?

Kohl's

When telling Amazon the reason for your return, choose wisely (but accurately)

The first thing Amazon asks after you start the return process is the reason for your return. Be careful, because the wrong reason could cost you -- literally. We would never suggest you lie about your reason for return. It is important, however, to be aware of how Amazon classifies return reasons so that you're choosing correctly.

For example, if you select "no longer needed" by default, you may be charged for the return. If your reason for return is actually more specific, you may not.

Almost all returns to Amazon are free (whether you take them to Kohl's or not), but Amazon will charge you at least $6 (more for big, heavy items) for front-door pickup if you say you're returning a purchase for one of these three reasons:

  • No longer needed: You changed your mind and don't want the item any more.
  • Bought by mistake: You accidentally hit Buy it Now or forgot to delete an item from your cart before checking out.
  • Better price available: You find the same thing at, say, Walmart for less than what you paid for it at Amazon.

Amazon will not charge you for the cost for UPS Pickup for these reasons:

  • Inaccurate website description: Example: The photo shows a deep royal blue, but the item is a light sky blue. Similar to but different from "Wrong item was sent" (see below).
  • Item defective or doesn't work: Could be that it's broken or simply doesn't do what it's designed to do (for example, a can opener that spins up but doesn't cut the lid off).
  • Product damaged, but shipping box OK: The box isn't dented, cut or scratched, but the item inside has cosmetic or mechanical damage.
  • Item arrived too late: The item was delivered past the guaranteed delivery and missed, for example, a birthday.
  • Missing or broken parts: Similar to "Item was defective or doesn't work" but applies not to the item itself but the attachments, etc. that come with it.
  • Product and shipping box both damaged: Somewhere between being boxed up and arriving at your door, the package was mishandled, and the product arrives broken.
  • Wrong item was sent: If you received a completely different item, not just that the size, shape or color wasn't what you selected (see "Inaccurate website description").
  • Received extra item I didn't buy: Something extra got packaged with your order, and you feel obliged to return it.
  • Didn't approve purchase: Someone, either in your family (a child, a spouse) or a friend (say, one on whose computer you logged into Amazon and forgot to log out) ordered something and you got charged.
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Free UPS pickup is our favorite option for Amazon returns.

Angela Lang/CNET

Your refund method doesn't affect return shipping

Next you'll have to choose how you want your money back. The quickest way is to receive a credit to your Amazon account, which Amazon will issue as soon as UPS scans your return into its system, but then you're stuck spending the money at Amazon.

You can also have the funds put back on your debit or credit card. But even though Amazon will issue the refund as soon as UPS takes possession of your return package, it still could take another three to five business days to show up in your account. 

The choice is down to you. Whichever way you go, though, you'll still need to decide exactly how you want to send the item back.

Don't merely accept the default return shipping method

When Amazon asks you to select a return shipping method, Kohl's Dropoff will almost always be the default pre-selected option, but it's not the one you want (unless you need to go to Kohl's anyway). 

To get to the UPS Pickup option, you'll have to scroll down and possibly even click on a link that reads something like 2 other return options.

When you finally see the option for UPS Pickup, it should also show the cost as $0.00 (unless, of course, you choose one of the three return reasons that will incur a charge). Tap or click UPS Pickup then select Confirm Your Return.

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All that's left is packing everything up and setting it out

Follow whatever instructions Amazon gives you, which will probably just be to print out a packing slip and place it in the package with your return. 

Tape up the box good and tight -- even over the return label so it won't get damaged -- then put the package near your front door so you don't forget to set it out on the next business day. 

You might even want to set a reminder on your phone or with a digital assistant like Alexa or Google Assistant so you don't forget.

If you do happen to forget to leave your return outside for UPS, in the best case scenario UPS will leave a note and attempt pickup two more times. Worst case, the UPS driver will leave a prepaid mailing label that you'll have to apply to the package yourself, then you'll have to cart the thing to the nearest UPS Store or UPS Dropoff location.

Good luck, and many happy returns.

Originally published earlier this week.