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How the Amazon Refund Policy Works

Published at Mar 02, 2016.

Both buyers and sellers need to understand Amazon refund policy if they want to avoid unpleasant surprises. Yet the system is immensely complicated, filled with one what-if after another. Who wants to spend hours reading through every detail?

We decided to spend the time studying how Amazon refunds work so you don’t have to. Here’s the short version:

Last updated 8/10/2018.

How Big Are Amazon Refunds on Returns?

Sizes of Amazon Refunds

You can almost always get a good refund on an item you return to Amazon. However, returns are complicated before we even get into the refund process. I recommend reading our Amazon return policy article first.

Returned on Time and As Received

Good news: You will generally get a full refund for items returned on time and in their original condition (as in, you didn't open the box).

Bad news: You may need to pay the return shipping, possibly along with a restocking fee and taxes. 

Amazon Return Policy Explained” covers how long you have to return an item to Amazon—usually 30 days.

Returned Late and As Received

It’s not always the end of the world if you’ve gone past the return window. If the item is still in exactly the condition you received it, you may be able to return it for 80% of the price.

Returned Opened

Physical copies of movies and music (such as records or DVDs) can be returned for a 50% refund. When you add in the cost of the shipping, restocking, and so on, this refund can be too small to be worth it. The lesson: don’t try to use Amazon like it's Netflix in 1997. We have streaming now.

If you open software or a video game, you will get no refund at all, even if you return it. Make sure you check those system requirements first!

For policies on other opened items, see our Amazon returns article.

Returned Damaged or Used

Amazon will give you a full refund if they are at fault for any damage to an item. If you’re at fault, though, then you’ll get no more than 50% of what you paid, and often less. This applies to anything that you’ve clearly used or that has lost parts.

For more information, see Amazon’s About Refunds page.

How Do Third-Party Seller Refunds on Returns Work?

If the item you bought came from a third-party seller rather than Amazon itself, then the seller will have to provide at least as good a refund as Amazon would. However, they can decide to offer a better return policy than Amazon’s if they want.

Always contact your seller first. They may decide to give you a full refund without requiring a return or otherwise make the process easier for you.

Note to sellers: Providing a relaxed refund policy is a good way to get a great Amazon seller rating. Having simple rules will also cut the time you spend on customer service almost as effectively as integrating Amazon with a professional helpdesk.

When Will I Get My Refund?

Amazon Refund Policy on Time to Get Money Back

You have to wait through three steps before you'll see your money back: shipping, Amazon processing, and payment processing.

1. Shipping

Amazon generally does not begin processing the refund on a return until they have received the item. How long that takes will depend on shipping. In most cases, they should receive your item within 2 weeks.

Exception: Instant Refunds

Some items qualify for instant refunds. These refunds can be provided as a gift card balance immediately. Alternatively, if you used a credit card, you can get the amount back on your card in 3 to 5 days, without waiting for the item to get back to Amazon first.

2. Amazon Processing

Once Amazon receives your return, it usually takes them 3 to 5 business days to process the return and initiate a refund. 

3. Payment Processing

You may not get the money as soon as Amazon sends out the refund. Your financial institution (such as your credit card provider or bank) may take its sweet time registering the money as returned.

Credit Cards

If you made your purchase using a credit card, it can take between 3 and 5 business days for your card provider to process your refund and display it on your account. That is, unless you used a pre-paid credit card. It can take up to 30 days to get your money back on one of those!

Gift Cards

Amazon gift card refunds are instant, and provided as a gift card balance.

Combined Credit Card and Gift Card Payment

If you made the payment partly with a credit card and partly with a gift card, you can have it all refunded right away as a gift card balance.

Alternatively, you can split the refund. The original gift card amount then gets refunded immediately as a gift card balance. The amount you paid with the credit card should appear on your card account in 3 to 5 business days.

Checking Accounts and Debit Cards

It can take up to 10 business days for your bank to process a checking account or debit card refund.

Reward Points

If you use Amazon's Shop with Points program to make purchases with points from your credit card or another reward program, the refund will be provided as the same kind of reward points. It takes up to 5 business days for the points to become available.

So, How Long Do I Have to Wait?

Combining a minimum of 2 days of shipping with the processing times for Amazon and your financial institution, here’s how long it could take you to get a refund from the time your return enters the mail system to the time the money appears back in your account:

Instant refund (bypass wait for return shipping and Amazon processing):

  • Gift card: 0 calendar days.
  • Credit card: 3–5 calendar days.

Standard refund:

  • Gift card: 5–21 calendar days.
  • Reward points: 5–28 calendar days.
  • Credit card or gift/credit combination: 8–28 calendar days.
  • Checking account or debit card: 5–35 calendar days.
  • Pre-paid credit card: 5–51 calendar days.

How Will I Get My Money Back?

You can almost always have the money sent back to the method you used to make your purchase. You can also choose to have it credited to an Amazon gift card in many cases. In fact, Amazon will often default to providing the refund as a gift card, so be sure to change this if it’s not what you want.

What If the Seller Makes a Mistake—or I Do?

In addition to refunding returns, a seller may cancel an order and refund you immediately. Here are a few situations in which that may happen:

  • The item you ordered is out of stock or they otherwise can’t send it to you.
  • You request that the seller cancel an order before they ship it.
  • You enter an invalid address.

What If the Seller Really Screws Up?

Amazon Refund Example—Third-Party Seller

This third-party seller sent only one of the two items I ordered, but gave me a full refund for the missing item when I contacted them.

What if the seller makes a mistake and your order arrives broken, or contains the wrong item? What if they never even ship it to you or lie about its condition? What if you send the item back and they never give you your refund?

Don’t sweat it. In these cases, you’re covered under the Amazon A-to-z Guarantee.

If you encounter any issues like these with something eligible for Amazon Prime, then their customer service team will handle your situation directly. This is because they were in charge of shipping and returns. My own experience has been that Amazon handles these situations extremely well and you should have no trouble getting your money back.

In order to file an A-to-z Guarantee claim against a third-party seller, you must first contact them and give them a chance to redeem themselves. You can then file the claim if they don’t respond to you within 2 days or they refuse to solve the problem.

Learn how to file an A-to-z Guarantee claim here.

Summary

Amazon refund policy has plenty of fine print and can be hard to completely understand if you’re not a lawyer. However, the vast majority of transactions will follow the rules discussed here. Only request refunds when it’s reasonable to do so and you should never have any trouble getting your money back.

Considering selling on Amazon but not sure it’s worth the trouble? Discover the benefits of selling on Amazon—or find out if you prefer the advantages of eBay.

Works Cited

"About Refunds." Amazon.com. Amazon, n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2018.

"About Our Returns Policies." Amazon.com. Amazon, n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2018.

"About A-to-z Guarantee." Amazon.com. Amazon, n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2018.

"A-to-z Claim Conditions." Amazon.com. Amazon, n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2018.

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