One of the biggest perks of shopping online from Amazon is the company’s very friendly return policy: you can return almost anything that you buy within 30 days, and usually get a full refund - something Amazon can afford because it then goes on to sell many of those items at lower prices through Amazon Warehouse.

There are limits though: some items can’t be returned at all, while others might have specific restrictions on returns. Policies also vary by country, and you’ll want to take care when you use the system a lot: people have reported having their Amazon accounts banned for returning too many items.

For more Amazon tips, check out our massive guide to all things Amazon Prime, or our tips on how to get free Amazon delivery.

Which Amazon items can I return?

Amazon lets you return most purchases for a refund, but there are some understandable exceptions to its returns policy. You can’t return any of the following to Amazon for a refund unless the product in question is in fact defective:

  • Products which are not suitable for return due to health protection or hygienic reasons if unsealed by you after delivery, or which are, after delivery, inseparably mixed with other items;
  • Sealed audio or video recordings or of sealed software if unsealed by you after delivery;
  • Goods made to your specifications or clearly personalized, especially personalized Amazon Handmade items;
  • Goods which may deteriorate or expire rapidly;
  • A service, if the supplier has fully performed it and you accepted when you placed your order that the supplier could start to deliver it, and that you could not cancel it once delivery had started;
  • Digital content (including apps, digital software, ebooks, MP3, etc) which is not supplied on a tangible medium (e.g. on a CD or DVD) if you accepted when you placed your order that the supplier could start to deliver it, and that you could not cancel it once delivery had started
  • Newspapers, journals or magazines with the exception of subscription contracts;
  • Alcoholic beverages whose actual value is dependent on fluctuations in the market which the supplier cannot control;
  • AmazonFresh groceries - these can sometimes be refunded, but rarely returned

How long do I have to return an item?

Amazon will accept returns on items for up to 30 days, with the timer starting from the day you receive the items in question - not from when you first place the order or make the payment.

This is longer than the 14-day return period granted by your statutory rights in the UK, though it’s worth noting that if the item in question is defective you have additional rights: the retailer (so, Amazon) has to either repair or replace a faulty item, though after the first six months the onus is on you to prove the fault was present at purchase, which can be tricky. Head here to find out more about your rights in the UK.

How to return an Amazon purchase

The first thing to do if you have an Amazon order that you want to return is to head to Amazon’s returns hub, which will walk you through most of the process.

In brief, you’ll have to find the specific order in your account history, then select the items that you want to return, giving Amazon a brief explanation of the reason you’re trying to return them.

You’ll then get to choose how you want to send the items back to Amazon. The options you get here depend on the item, but you might be able to post it directly to Amazon, drop it off at an Amazon Locker or parcel collection point, or even arrange for Amazon to collect it from your home.

Finally, you’ll likely have to print a return authorisation slip (for inside the box) and shipping label (for outside it). You don’t have to print these immediately, as Amazon will email you a link that you can access next time you’re near a printer - or just ask a friend to print for you.

It’s worth remembering that if you’re returning any electronics that store your personal data or accounts - phones, laptops, games consoles, etc. - you should make sure to sign out and erase everything before you send it back to Amazon. Just don’t forget to back up anything you need first!

Will I have to pay for postage?

Whether you have to pay for your return depends entirely on the reason for it. If you’re returning an item because of an error on Amazon or the seller’s part - it was defective or incorrect, for example - then the return is entirely free. That’s also the case for returns of any shoes or clothing.

However, if you’re returning something simply because you decided you didn’t want it or ordered the wrong thing by mistake, Amazon will deduct the costs of the return postage from your refund. That cost will vary by item - in the UK, Amazon says it starts from £3.99 and goes up from there, while in the US it will at least refund you up to $20, but if your postage costs any more than that you’ll have to contact customer service to find out if they will refund any more.

Can I return an Amazon gift?

You might not realise it, but you can refund an Amazon order even if you didn’t pay for it yourself. If a friend or family member ordered something on Amazon and had it sent directly to you as a gift, you can still return it for a refund - without the gift giver ever knowing.

First head to Amazon’s dedicated gift returns page, and enter in the order number: this is a 17-digit code which you should find on the order slip inside the package. If you’ve lost this, Amazon support might be able to help you find it, but you’ll need to provide information on who sent you the gift.

Otherwise the return steps are much the same as above, but note that rather than a refund to your card - since it wasn’t you who paid in the first place after all - Amazon will credit your account with the equivalent gift card balance, which you can then spend on other Amazon purchases.

Will I get banned for too many returns?

In a word: maybe. Quite a few people have reported receiving warnings from Amazon or even having their accounts banned entirely for returning too many items, as it obviously costs Amazon every time it has to process a return and refund.

Still, for the average shopper that’s unlikely to be a problem: most of the people who’ve reported bans have admitted that they tended to push the service to its limits, for example purposefully requesting multiple items to test them, with the intention all along of returning all but one of them.

"We want everyone to be able to use Amazon, but there are rare occasions where someone abuses our service over an extended period of time," an Amazon representative said. "We never take these decisions lightly, but with over 300 million customers around the world, we take action when appropriate to protect the experience for all our customers. If a customer believes we've made an error, we encourage them to contact us directly so we can review their account and take appropriate action."

So as long as you don’t abuse the system - think returning multiple orders a month - you’re probably safe to return away without worrying too much.