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How the Amazon Return Policy Works

Published at Jan 18, 2016.

As Amazon sellers, we’ve gotten to know Amazon returns from the seller’s perspective pretty well. But a few poorly received gifts over the holidays left us scratching our heads as we tried to figure out the Amazon return policy for buyers.

How long, exactly, do you have to return a product? Do you need tracking or insurance? What are the differences between returning a product to Amazon and returning a product to a third-party seller?

After looking through the labyrinthine results on the official policy page, we decided to put together this guide—as much for our own benefit as for yours.

How Do I Return an Item to Amazon?

Meeting and Exceeding Amazon Return Policy Requirements

You can find Amazon’s full instructions for returning an item here. Here’s the short version:

  1. Go to the Amazon Returns Center and follow their prompts.
  2. If you need to return your item, you should receive a mailing label via email. You may also get additional paperwork. Print these materials. (See the full instructions for what to do if you don’t have a printer.)
  3. Pack any paperwork with the item you’re returning.
  4. If you have the packaging the item arrived in, you can just put it back inside and replace the old shipping label with your new one. Otherwise, you’ll need to get a good box for it and padding materials like newspaper, packing peanuts or bubble wrap. Make sure the box is taped securely shut and that your padding does not allow the item to bounce around inside.
  5. Follow any remaining instructions given to you by the Amazon return center.

Please note that you must return each item in a separate box.

How Do I Return a Gift to Amazon?

Another Bad Gift

Returning a gift to Amazon works much like returning an item that you purchased yourself. The key difference is what you need in order to return it: your order ID, or information about the gift giver.

How Do I Find My Order ID?

Your Order ID appears in the upper-left of the packing slip sent with the order, as shown below. (Please excuse the horrible image quality, as this was originally intended only as evidence for Amazon.)

Amazon Order ID on Packing Slip

Of course, the packing slip also has the price of your gift on it, so it’s not always popular to include it when giving a present. That means that if you don’t have it, you’ll have to get it from the gift giver. Good luck!

What If the Giver Lost the Packing Slip?

They can still find it on their Amazon account. They just need to log in to Amazon, mouse over “Your Account,” and click on “Your Orders.” The order ID will be in the upper-right of the order in question.

Amazon Order ID

What If I Can’t Get the Order ID?

In that case, you’ll need to get the giver’s name and phone number, as well as the email address they use for Amazon. Contact Amazon once you have this information and they will try to locate your order ID for you.

How Do I Return the Gift Once I Have This Information?

You can find Amazon’s gift return instructions here. Here’s our version:

  1. Go to the Amazon Returns Center and follow their prompts. If you don’t have an Amazon account yet, you’ll need to create one—but don’t worry, it’s free.
  2. If your return request is approved, you should receive a return label and a return authorization slip via email. Print these materials. (See the main Amazon return policy page for what to do if you don’t have a printer.)
  3. Pack the return authorization with the item you’re returning.
  4. If you have the original packaging used to deliver the product to your door, you can just put the item back inside and replace the old shipping label with your return label. Otherwise, you’ll need to get a good box for it and padding materials like newspaper, packing peanuts or bubble wrap. Make sure the box is taped securely shut and that your padding does not allow the item to bounce around inside.
  5. Follow any remaining instructions given to you by the Amazon return center.

What If the Seller Won’t Approve My Return Request?

You may still be able to return the gift. However, you’ll have to get the giver involved and ask them if they can file an A-to-z Guarantee claim. That can be a painful experience for everyone involved, so only turn to that option if absolutely necessary.

How Long Do I Have to Return Something I Bought on Amazon?

Time Left to Return Your Item

You just had to ask, didn’t you? It’s complicated—it depends on what you bought, when you bought it, and whom you bought it from. It sometimes even depends on what you bought it for!

Look for the statement that most closely matches your situation below. The amount of time you have to initiate your return appears in front of it.

If You Bought Your Product from Amazon or from a Seller Eligible for Amazon Prime:

Never: I purchased hazardous materials; live insects or plants; food; wine; gift, game or phone cards; or a game or downloadable software.

You have to admit: shipping your can of propane, bucket of nightcrawlers, bottle of fancy wine, or World of Warcraft card was probably a hair-raising experience for the delivery guys the first time around. And if you try sending back a live plant or insect, it’s just not likely to survive another three days bouncing around in the back of a delivery van.

Returns for these items are out of the question. However, if you get a box of dead crickets when you have a house full of hungry lizards to feed, or someone clearly used your oxygen tank to fight off Jaws, you might be able to get a refund. Learn more here.

Digital products specific to Amazon (such as Kindle or Fire downloads) have their own return policy.

14 days: I bought a cellphone from Amazon.

You generally have 14 days from the time a cellphone is shipped to cancel service and 30 days to return the device. Rules can vary from one company to another, so I recommend reading the full policy here.

30 days: I just bought a normal product at a normal time of year.

You have 30 days from the time you receive your purchase to return it to Amazon.

31 to 92 days: I need to return something I bought during the holidays.

Amazon goes easy on everyone during the holidays. If your item was shipped between November 1 and December 31, you have until January 31 to return it.

90 days: I’ve got these baby items I don’t really want . . .

Did everyone at the baby shower give you boy-themed stuff, only for a daughter to join your family two months later? No worries—with the exception of baby clothes (which follow the normal 30-day rule), you have 90 days to give back your baby items.

180 days: I want to send back something bought through my wedding registry.

You have up to 180 days to contact Amazon about wedding registry returns. If you make the return within the first 30 days, though, you can just use the Amazon Returns Center instead.

365 days: I bought an Amazon Elements product.

The Amazon Elements line may not be very large, but their one-year money-back guarantee sure is nice! You have up to 365 days after you receive the product to report that you’re not completely satisfied.

Life of Warranty: The automotive parts I purchased failed.

If you buy something for your vehicle and it doesn’t work or suffers from another failure covered by the manufacturer’s warranty, you can get it replaced by Amazon or get a full refund.

If You Bought Something from a Third-Party Seller:

14 days

Sellers can define their own return policies, but they should always be as good as or better than the return policy for Amazon. You should therefore have as much time as in the cases above under most circumstances.

However, we give you 14 days for a third-party seller because you must contact them within that timeframe. Failing to do so means you won’t have the option to file an A-to-z Guarantee claim. If there’s a problem and you don’t contact the seller in those first two weeks after you receive the item, there’s no way to force them to refund you, even if you ordered a laptop and they sent you a broken abacus. Don’t put yourself in that position.

You must also send your product back within 30 days of receiving it.

If you follow those rules, you’ll have a total of 90 days from the time your purchase arrived at your doorstep to file an A-to-z claim.

What Are the Conditions for Making a Return?

Damaged Package

We’ve all opened a box and found that the thing we’d bought didn’t work—or that it just wasn’t nearly as cool as the commercials made it seem. Can we still return it? Or have we already lost that opportunity because we opened it? Do we need to also have the receipt, or the warranty, or . . . what?

Here are the answers you’re looking for:

Does It Need to Be Unopened?

TVs that were not shipped using Enhanced Delivery, new and fully functional computers and tablets, breast pumps (obviously), and cellphones with service must all be unopened in their original packaging. Graded and original government packaged coins must be delivered inside their original packaging.

While most other things can theoretically be returned after you've opened them, you might get hit with penalties like restocking fees, and you'll almost certainly have to pay the return shipping if the item arrived in new condition. Third-party sellers may also have their own rules about what you can and can't open before starting a return.

Note: If you ordered a TV using Enhanced Delivery, it just needs to still be in like-new condition.

Do I Need to Return All of the Packaging, Documentation, Etc.?

Sports and entertainment collectibles, fine art, Handmade at Amazon products, jewelry, and watches all need to be returned with their original packaging, certificates, tags and anything and everything else that came with them.

Should I Take a Picture of It Before I Send It Back?

Taking a picture of the product in the condition in which you received it is a great way to prove that it was in good condition before you sent it back, or that it was broken when it arrived. Amazon therefore requests that you photograph all sports and entertainment collectibles, collectible coins, and fine art items before returning them.

Can I Still Return It If It’s Been Damaged Since I Got It, or If I Made Any Changes?

You cannot return any jewelry, watches, fine art, or collectible coins that have been damaged or changed in any way since you received them. You may be able to return things from other categories but there's no gaurantee.

New computers and tablets can be returned if they didn’t work or were damaged when they arrived. However, if you broke them or popped off a lid and fiddled with the innards, you won’t be able to return them.

Do I Need to Use a Delivery Confirmation Service?

Amazon suggests that you use the USPS delivery confirmation service for returns of all items priced at or below $74.99 when dealing with a third-party seller. This will prevent disputes if you return an item and the seller claims they never received it.

Do I Need to Use a Trackable Shipping Service?

An item valued at $75 or more must be returned with a trackable shipping service if it was purchased from a third-party seller and/or falls under one of the following categories:

  • Collectibles (sports & entertainment)
  • Collectible Coins
  • Fine Art
  • Jewelry & Watches

Do I Need to Insure the Shipment?

Items returned to third-party sellers must be insured during shipping if they:

  • Were purchased from a third-party seller and worth $100 or more.
  • Are sports or entertainment collectibles worth over $500.
  • Are fine art items worth over $500.

How Do Amazon Refunds Work?

That’s a topic for another article! See "How the Amazon Refund Policy Works."

In Conclusion

The Amazon return policy has a lot of rules and can certainly be confusing. However, you can almost always return an item, whether it was a gift or something you bought yourself. We hope that by rephrasing it here, we made it just a little easier for you to understand so you can get the refund you deserve.

By the way, if you're a seller trying to make better sense of all these policies from the buyer's perspective, you can tame the madness! Integrating Amazon with a helpdesk lets you handle all your messages (even those from eBay or your online store) in one place. Make your life easier.

Works Cited

"About Our Returns Policies." Amazon, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.

"About Our Returns Policy." Amazon, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2016. <>.

"Return a Gift." Amazon, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.

"Return Items You Ordered." Amazon, n.d. Web. 18 Jan. 2016.

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