Services & Software

Here's how to get free return shipping from Amazon

Buying on Amazon is a snap -- but returns often aren't. It doesn't have to be like that.

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You can return unwanted Amazon packages without leaving the house.
Angela Lang/CNET

There's nothing quite like the rush when something you've ordered on Amazon arrives on your doorstep. But if there's a problem with your purchase -- and you need to do a return or exchange -- that euphoria can easily turn into a crashing headache. 

Amazon offers several ways to return purchases -- through Kohl's, Whole Foods or UPS, for example. You're typically asked to bring the goods to a store, but there is a way to send back a package without setting foot outside, often at no cost to you.

If your idea of convenience is not going farther than your front door, here's how to have UPS pick up your package from your home for free.

For more, learn about the perks that come with Prime membership, the best credit cards to use on Amazon and the company's plans to launch an Instacart-like service in the US.

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Give a reason, not an excuse

It's important to be as honest and precise as possible about why you're returning the product: If possible, Amazon and third-party sellers want to resell the merchandise (like through Amazon Warehouse Deals), so they'll check your items against your reason once the package is received. 

Some reasons qualify for free shipping and some don't: For example, if you select "No longer needed," you may be charged for the return. 

Misclassifying a return can not only result in negative repercussions to your account -- Amazon has been known to ban shoppers who misuse the return process -- but it can also mean you'll have to cough up shipping costs later anyway.

Here are all the various return reasons Amazon gives you to choose from:

  • No longer needed: You changed your mind and don't want the item anymore.
  • 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: It could be broken or simply doesn't do what it's designed to do (for example, a power bank with a broken USB-C port).
  • Bought by mistake: You accidentally hit Buy Now or forgot to delete an item from your cart before checking out.
  • Better price available: You've found the same thing at, say, Walmart for less than you paid for it at Amazon.
  • 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 or holiday.
  • Missing or broken parts: Similar to "Item was defective or doesn't work" but applies specifically to the attachments or other items that come with a purchase.
  • Product and shipping box both damaged: Somewhere between being boxed up and arriving at your door the package was mishandled, and the product arrived broken.
  • The wrong item was sent: If you received a completely different item.
  • Received extra item I didn't buy (no refund needed): Something extra got packaged with your order, and you feel obliged to return it.
  • Didn't approve purchase: Someone, perhaps a child or friend, ordered something on your account without asking and you got charged for it.
Amazon Echo

Products ordered through Amazon's digital assistant always comes with free returns, regardless of the reason.

Amazon

Items ordered via Alexa always come with free returns, regardless of the reason

If you're considering a purchase but are really worried it won't qualify for free return shipping if it doesn't work out, order it through Alexa: Physical merchandise ordered through voice-shopping with Amazon's digital assistant always comes with free returns, regardless of the reason. (The only exception is Amazon Pharmacy purchases.)

To return a product purchased using Alexa, process your return as normal in the Returns Center and Amazon will automatically refund any applied shipping charges. You should see your refund within 7 days of Amazon getting the merchandise back. 

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A UPS pick-up is the only way to get free shipping without leaving the house.

Angela Lang/CNET

Don't just accept the default return shipping method

When Amazon asks you to select a return shipping method, Kohl's Drop off may be the default preselected option, but it's not necessarily the one you want.

To get to the UPS Pick-up option, the only way to return items without leaving home, you'll have to scroll down and possibly even click a link that reads something like "See more return options."

When you finally see the option for UPS Pick-up, it should also show the cost as $0.00 (unless you've chosen one of the few reasons for a return that Amazon charges for, in which case Amazon will deduct about $6 from your refund).

Tap or click UPS Pick-up and select Confirm Your Return.

Tell Amazon where to send your refund

You'll have to choose how you want to get your money back: The quickest way is to request a credit to your Amazon account, which the company will issue as soon as UPS scans your return into its system. Of course, then you're restricted to 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. 

Whether you choose a credit or a refund, you'll still need to decide how you want to send the item back.

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

Follow whatever instructions Amazon gives, which probably are just 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 -- and put the package near your front door so you won't forget to set it out on the next business day. 

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

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

Good luck, and many happy returns.

For more, here's how you can guard against porch pirates, and some cool gifts on Amazon for under 50 bucks.