Online shopping could eventually mean the death of the physical retail store, but even if that happens, one thing will be constant: the warehouse. There will always be a need to store vast amounts of items and to employ people to stock these warehouses.
Until robots take their jobs, warehouse employees will require salaries for the work they perform. Paying a person for retrieving, packaging and shipping an item that you've purchased online is already built into a retailer's costs. But if you return the item, it still has to be repackaged and replaced, although the company hasn't made any money from the return. As a result, online retailers have begun to charge restocking fees on returned items.
It's a reasonable requirement, but some restocking fees are easier to swallow than others. While some retailers charge up to 25 percent or more, a fee of 15 percent of the price you paid for the returned item has become customary for intensively packaged products, like electronics. Before proceeding to checkout, familiarize yourself with the retailer's return policies, which should be explicitly stated somewhere on its Web site.
Simply packaged items like books and unopened DVDs shouldn't cost you any money to return. Likewise, if you're returning the product because it's defective, you shouldn't be expected to pay any return fee. If you've damaged the product's UPC code or serial number, however, don't bother trying to return it -- you've pretty much taken the item permanently out of circulation. You can try to recoup some of what you paid by listing the item on Craigslist or eBay.