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Need to return an Amazon item? How to do it the fast and (usually) free way

You can quickly return packages from the same place where you received them: your home.

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Don't spend a single penny returning your unwanted Amazon packages if you don't have to -- not even on gas.

Angela Lang/CNET

You've ordered something from Amazon, and the package arrives in a few days. There's a problem with the item, however, and now you want to exchange it or return it for a refund. Unfortunately, returning an item to Amazon may not be as convenient as buying it.

By default, Amazon provides you with several ways to send back a package -- through Kohl's, Whole Foods and UPS (to name a few) -- and asks that you bring the product to the business to return it. Of course, if you're already planning a trip to one of these places then that's no sweat, but if you're not, there is a way to return your package without having to set foot outside.

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

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If you're already a Kohl's shopper, it might be convenient to return Amazon purchases there.

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Give a reason, not an excuse

The first thing Amazon will ask after you start the return process is the reason for your return. It's important to be as honest and precise here as possible. Amazon, as well as Amazon's third-party sellers, will want to resell the merchandise in good working order (like Amazon does through Amazon Warehouse Deals), so Amazon or the third-party seller will check your items against your reason for return them once the package is received. 

Misclassifying a return can not only result in negative repercussions to your Amazon account (the company has been known to ban shoppers who misuse the return process), but also cost you money by having to pay for return shipping when you didn't need to.

For example, if you select "No longer needed," you may be charged for the return. If your reason for return is other than that, you may not.

Here are all the various return reasons Amazon gives you to choose from as well as a description of exactly what they mean:

  • 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 working 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.
  • 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, either in your family (a child, a spouse) or a friend, ordered something and you got charged for it.
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Free UPS pickup is our favorite option for Amazon returns.

Angela Lang/CNET

Tell Amazon where to send your refund

Next you'll have to choose how you want your money back. The quickest way is to request a credit to your Amazon account, which Amazon will issue as soon as UPS scans your return into its system. But 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.

Don't merely 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 always the one you want (unless you need to go to Kohl's anyway). 

To get to the UPS Pick up option, which is 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.

Fun fact: Merchandise ordered through Amazon's digital assistant Alexa comes with free returns regardless of the reason.

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 -- 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 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, 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 are the final ship dates for UPS if you want your packages to arrive on time for the holidays this year. Here's how you can guard against porch pirates, and here are some cool gifts for under 50 bucks.