Friday, July 14, 2006

Are Catalog Pre-paid Return Labels a Waste of Money?

I recently had to return some items I ordered from a catalog-- I'm often really bad about this. I order a whole bunch of stuff in various sizes, keep a small number of things that work out, and then leave the rest sitting on a shelf in my office for months until I finally get around to sending it back.
There's no real reason to procrastinate so much about it-- nowadays most catalog retailers make it really easy for you to return stuff: the envelopes can be resealed, there are pre-address postage-paid return labels, and all you have to do is pop it in the mail. That is what I usually do, but I often wonder how much I'm paying for this convenience. This time I decided to do an experiment to see what would be the cheapest way to return clothes to a catalog.
There are basically 2 or 3 options, depending on the catalog.
Option #1 is definitely the cheapest: you find a local branch of the store, walk in, and return the items there. No postage cost. But the company has to have a local store, and if it's not nearby, it's a nuisance.
Option #2 would seem to balance cost and convenience: you use the pre-paid reurn label. Then you just stick the package in a mailbox, or your office's outgoing mail and it's done. But do the "shipping and handling charges" include a convenience mark-up?
Option #3 would seem to be the cheapest but least convenient. You label the package, take it to the post office, and stand in line to mail it if you're not lucky enough to have one of those self-serve machines.

The stuff I was returning was from Eddie Bauer. They charge $6.00 if the package is under 5 lbs. and $8.50 if the package is over 5 lbs. My gut feeling was that the cost for parcel post would be less if I mailed it myself. I went to the USPS website to check, but unfortunately, they only have calculators for Priority Mail costs, not just plain old parcel post! So I decided to trek a few blocks to the post office at lunch one day. Fortunately my post office does have a self-service machine and there was only one person using it ahead of me, so it only took me a few minutes to discover that lo and behold, for my approx. 3 lb. package, parcel post would actually cost me $6.63-- 63 cents more than the pre-paid return label! I guess Eddie Bauer's bulk rate discount must outweigh any convenience mark-up. From now on, if I can't make it to an Eddie Bauer store, I'll just be slapping those labels on and not losing any sleep over whether I'm doing the most economical thing.
Stay tuned to see if I ever get a chance to analyze L.L.Bean...


Roger Snyder said...

I was wondering if youcould do some analysis on trivial expenses and the impact on one's wallet: ie: buying starbucks vs. cooking the beans at home>?
Enjoy your blog tremendously.

Anonymous said...

Good to know. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Not sure why you couldn't see parcel post rates on the USPS site. If I calculate postage, I get PP as one of the options.

Anonymous said...

use this

uzvards said...

If you order photo prints on, then you can send back all pictures you don't like for whatever reason using postage-paid label provided, and it won't cost you a penny (that's from my own experience).