What Do I Do When A Return Is Not In Its Original Packaging?

It’s safe to say that everyone has had to sort out a return in their time. That perfect coat that you found online doesn’t fit, or that elusive book that you’ve been trying to track down is damaged when it arrives. We’ve all learned how to deal with them as buyers, but what happens when you’re the one the item is getting returned to, and someone returns without the packaging?


There’s no way to ensure that you won’t ever have to deal with returns. However, by packaging your parcels correctly and picking the right courier you won’t have to worry about your customer receiving a damaged parcel. They have no such obligations with returns, so how do you go about dealing with something that comes back without the packaging that you were expecting?

When you’re selling something you take a lot of care in the way that it’s presented. First impressions are important, and so is packaging. So what do you do if someone returns your item without that packaging? Do you still have to give them their refund? Buyers don’t have to return items with the original packaging – no one is expecting you to hang onto the boxes for everything you buy after all. However, there are a few situations where the lack of packaging can be a big problem, and there are a few solutions for those moments.

Charge for a reduction in the value of the return item

Depending on the item, the lack of its original packaging – including things like price tags and labels – could make a big difference in the price that they are sold for. This is most relevant in the sales of collectibles, but it could be a big deal with other items too. Clothes that come back without their price tags for example, could never be sold as new again, and there’s one notable anecdote in the eBay community of a necklace sold in a genuine Tiffany’s box. When it was returned it was simply in a small plastic bag, with no sign of the box it had been dispatched in, greatly impacting how much the merchant could have sold it for on their next attempt.

It’s important to note here, that you can only charge if the value of the item has been reduced by “excessive handling”. That means you can’t do it if they’ve tried it on and sent it straight back, but if they’ve sent it back without its tags, or returned a model without its box, then value has clearly been reduced. It also has to state in your terms and conditions that returns may be charged if the value of the item has been reduced.

Offer them another chance

The internet presents an amazing opportunity to be an open and communicative merchant in ways that big businesses can only dream of. Being polite and understanding can go a long way, so getting in touch and asking for the original packaging could be the solution. Obviously this isn’t going to be much help when it comes to clothing tags, but it could certainly make a difference if you’re desperately trying to get that authentic branded jewellery box back.

Bear in mind that you can’t insist that they send back the packaging and, in fact, trying to add that to your terms and conditions is considered an “unfair contract” and thus not allowed. So if they refuse, they refuse.

Take the hit

Sometimes there’s just nothing you can do. If your customer is making a return based on the fact that your item is faulty, you’re obliged to honour a refund whatever state the packaging is in – assuming it really is faulty – and if you choose to offer goodwill refunds, then you can’t force them to return the packaging with the item. Check out what the UK’s Consumer Contract Regulations – the rules the government have put in place to help protect online buyers – have to say on the matter.

“The DSRs (Distance Selling Regulations) allow consumers to examine goods they have ordered as they would in a shop. If that requires opening the packaging and trying out the goods then they have not breached their duty to take reasonable care of the goods. In these circumstances you cannot insist that consumers return the goods as new or in their original packaging. You may ask consumers to return goods with the original packaging, but you cannot insist on this.”

That seems pretty clear – you can’t insist on returns with original packaging, but you can certainly ask nicely. It’s not an ideal solution, but when you have companies like eBay on the side of the consumer and legislation that seems, for the most part, to be saying the same, there’s not much you can do to fight. Sometimes it’s easier to just take the hit and move on.