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Frequently Asked Question!

Basically, you must contact the store and get their OK before you send the product back, for whatever reason, and you should do this quickly, to make sure you are within the time frame they have established for returns.

Usually you have to email or phone the store, telling them your order number and the complete product name (both are on the confirmation page that you printed out when ordering, and the email you received confirming your order, which, of course, you saved).

Then you have to tell the store your reason for wanting to return the product, your name, daytime phone, and email and shipping addresses. All of this information helps them locate your order in their system.

You must get their OK for the return, and that usually means they will send you something like a Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) with a special number. You place that RMA and number in the original package with the product and send it to the special address they give you. (The return location is often different from the warehouse that shipped you the product in the first place.) The RMA number is good only for returning this particular product. If the number doesn’t match the one the store sent, you will have great problems getting a refund or exchange. To make sure your return does not get lost, use a service that allows order tracking, such as FedEx or UPS, or the Post Office’s Priority or Express Mail.

If the product breaks at some time after the store will accept a return, you have to turn to the original manufacturer, using the warranty.

A store may refuse to accept a return if:

• You waited too long to complain (like more than 30 days after receipt).

• You just sent the darn thing back to the warehouse, without getting an OK for a return, and without enough information for them to recognize that you are the person sending the package.

• You sent it to the warehouse, not the returns location.

• You forgot to send back all the items the manufacturer included, such as the manual, the warranty, the registration card, and, oh yes, the product.

• You forgot to send the RMA number.

If you can return a product for credit, the credit shows up about three weeks after the product reaches the vendor. Most of that delay is due to the credit card companies slow accounting processes, not the store

As in a real store, when you have finally decided what you want to buy, you wheel your cart by the checkout counter.

In many stores, this is the time you have to enter your credit card info, or confirm the info you gave when you registered, which now shows up again (except for your password). For instance, your billing and shipping addresses appear all filled in, but you can change them now, although many stores insist that your shipping and billing addresses match the address to which the credit card company sends its bills. You also get one last chance to edit quantities and remove products. Pay particular attention to the shipping method to make sure that is really what you want. (In some systems, you must wait until checkout to pick a shipping method, and find out how much it will cost only during checkout. Ugh.)

When everything is the way you like it, click Submit or Order to send your order in. In a well-designed site, you should immediately get a page confirming the order details and asking you, one more time, to confirm that this is really, really what you want. One more OK, and the order is really, really sent in. (Poorly designed or greedy sites just accept your order the first time, not giving you a moment to reconsider.)

In a few minutes an email should go out from the site confirming the purchase. (You may get the confirmation in a quarter hour, or a few hours, depending in part on the traffic on the Internet and the speed with which your email is delivered.) Be sure to save this confirming email, in case anything goes wrong with the order. You might even consider setting up a folder to save mail from stores so you can find it quickly.

That depends on the way you pay the store, and on their routine for picking and packing orders.

If you send your order in electronically from the Web site, or phone with your credit card info, you get the shipping process started right away. The clock ticks from that moment.

But if you send the order by fax or email, a human has to read it, call up the credit card company, and get the OK before anything else happens; a day or so may go by before the clerk gets around to verifying the card.

Slowest of all is sending your order in by mail, because that adds another two to five days to the delay.

Once the store’s computer system receives the fully confirmed order, the staff has to read the order, pick the products off the shelf, pack them, and pile them up for a delivery service to collect. In some stores, if you get an order into their system by a certain time (from early morning until right after lunch, their time), your order is shipped that day or the next morning. For instance, most orders for flowers go out the same day if ordered before lunchtime.

Most stores take 24 to 48 hours before they actually hand the package over to the delivery service. Stores run by individuals or families may take three days to ship.

And all of these figures assume that the product is in stock.

If it’s not available, you may have to wait a few weeks (you should receive an email warning you of the delay and offering to let you cancel the order).

And if you have asked for special engraving, or customization, you may have to wait a month and a half or more before the personalized product is ready to be shipped.

If delivery times are critical, you should check the store’s policy on shipping. The best stores have a button called Shipping, taking you to this kind of information. Others put the info under Customer Service, FAQ, or Help. In some cases, you have to start ordering in order to find out when they ship.