Can a merchant charge a restocking fee if merchandise was defective?

Dear Consumer Ed:

I bought a fender for a 1969 Chevelle from a parts store. I got the correct part, but it is defective and won’t line up correctly with the side of the car.  When I went to return the part, the parts company charged me a restocking fee. Are they allowed to do that for a defective part?

Consumer Ed says:

In Georgia, retailers are allowed to set their own policies regarding refunds and exchanges, including those related to “restocking fees.”  A “re-stocking” fee implies, by its very name, a fee imposed to cover costs associated with placing merchandise back into the store’s stock.  A retailer should adequately disclose the existence of these charges before the purchase becomes final (this requirement is not met by retailers who print their return policies on the back of their receipts, which are issued after a purchase is made).

However, while the collection of these fees is permissible, there may be circumstances where a retailer should not enforce such a fee, or circumstances where charging it would be unfair or even deceptive.  For example, in states that do have laws addressing re-stocking fees, it’s illegal to charge them in the following situations:  They are being charged in connection with the return of defective merchandise; they are being charged because the retailer delivered the wrong merchandise; they are being charged because the retailer failed to deliver the merchandise within the promised time period; they exceed 50% of the purchase price of the merchandise; or the restocking fees are not adequately disclosed to the customer.

In a situation where the store owner may be charging unfair restocking fees, there are several options.  First, if the fee was charged to your credit card you can try to dispute the charge with your credit card company.  Second, you could submit a complaint to the Better Business Bureau to see if they can help mediate the situation between you and the retailer.  Finally, you can submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov or to the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Division at consumer.ga.gov or by calling 404-651-8600.

Submit your own question to Consumer Ed.  Remember…we do not give legal advice. Always consult a lawyer about legal issues.

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