Returns are inevitable part of any ecommerce flow. They can be initiated for various reasons, and we all perfectly know them: not what expected, different color, damage, doesn't suit for some reason - there could be myriads of reasons. Returns are part of ecommerce business since very beginning and every business has returns policy that may slightly differ, but overall is very common to similar practices in businesses of same niche.
Now, ecommerce developed immensely over the years; that includes overall customer service, common rules and approaches and return policies as well. In 2022 you can expect pretty much more or less same terms on every similar website. Pretty much every customer while buying something online knows what to expect customer service wise.
Amazon, as world's largest ecommerce website, affected this customer service approach and customer expectations in absolutely dominant way, offering exceptional customer value, becoming a total dominant force in a process; however, most business analysts, sales professionals and managers tend to agree that at some point it became too customer-focused to a degree it started to bite sellers + Amazon itself beyond any reasonable managing point. We can clearly see that shift is slightly moving backwards to reasonable terms to everyone - both customer and merchant, but it's still not entirely there.
We don't say people became 'spoiled' or too 'light-headed' just because of Amazon. We don't say Amazon was a primary reason for some unrealistic customers' expectations, but it's one of the reasons for sure. Besides, Amazon loves to solve most of all these problems and issues on actual merchant's expense - don't ask how we know.
What are common return terms most customers are expecting?
Nowadays customers online and offline are very much into free returns without even explaining too much the reasons for it. For offline stores it's common practice that 99% of stores can and will afford. For large chains like Walmart, returns are inevitable part of planned expense, and those business expect 5-10% of total profits to be wasted on returns alone. That doctrine is written in business overall revenue stream as integral part of income/expense flow.
For offline stores, however, this is pretty straightforward policy since shipping costs / complications are taken off the formula completely. Customer (you) handles all that. You buy a product in a store personally, you package it back, you bring it back to the store as well and if something with a product is not as it's supposed to be (like boxes missing, broken parts) etc. it's solved right at customer's service desks. Sometimes they even forgive you if product returned missing something or damaged.
Walmart, as we know is especially forgiving on return items condition - that depends on item, obviously, it's cost and many other things.
For online stores, shipping is added up factor. Absolute majority of smaller things that are relatively easy to ship offer either free or reasonable returns. That's a pinnacle of clothing ecommerce industry lately - everyone loves ordering 10 t-shirts, try them on, and ship 8 back. Don't tell us you didn't do that :)
Everything becomes quite different when we talk about quite heavy and bulky products that are shipped, for example furniture, appliances and such. Normally, customer (you) can't handle or ship those things back.
Returns for large products as furniture might not be as easy as you think: check policies beforehand
Heavy products return policies
As said before, for furniture, however, returns are slightly different and there are few obvious and not very obvious reasons for it. First of all, most furniture is very heavy, bulky product that can't be shipped with conventional shipping methods. There are limited number of shipping companies that specialize in such shipments; there are local furniture delivery professionals + there are regular shippers that do ship furniture using trailers / pallets.
Each shipment may cost few hundred dollars, no matter what shipping quote merchant shows you.
Now, that almost immediately takes away true free shipping - free returns possibilities. There's simply no way a business can afford few hundred-dollar shipping cost coverage for shipping and return because someone didn't like the color. Even largest businesses that work in niche, for example, Wayfair, have policies that offer 'free returns' with some obvious, common for furniture ecommerce merchant limitations. Let's talk about these limitations.
Shipping charges are usually non-refundable
For the reasons stated above, no business will usually pay $100+ shipping charges out of their own pocket. If you need to return your purchase, it's totally fine, but you have to be ready to pay for it. It's not the same as paying $15 for your "t-shirts" shipment. That normally applies to shipping to you and back.
Products typically need to be in original packaging
You can't bring back a TV to store for return without a box. Same applies for furniture - simply because if it's in a box and pretty much unpacked (or if repacked you can't say it was opened before) - it's as good as new and can be sold again. Otherwise, sorry - no.
Product can't be assembled
Same as above. With furniture assembly in some cases leads to inevitable changes to a product itself - for example if you install sofa legs that typically involves drilling holes on a bottom of a sofa base, physically ripping the cloth and drilling the wood. If this is done, typically no one will accept this product as it's not new anymore. Would you like to receive a sofa with holes for legs already there ...?
Now note that these rules are not done to make customer's lives miserable and deny all returns. That's simply not true. All returns are perfectly working under specified terms - you can, however, need to know what to expect.
Main point customers need to understand - while choosing and buying furniture and overall heavier products online you'll have to be more serious than usual and don't expect 'free' and 'easy' returns simply you used to such procedure with something else. You'll have to consider / pay attention to following things:
Read returns policy before pulling the trigger, don't assume something as granted
If you know you're really picky about let's say couch firmness - try to find similar couch in a store, or contact customer service about firmness
Read all measurements, measure you space, find out measurements that are missing if needed
Be prepared that color tones might slightly differ
Approach the purchase more seriously than your typical ecommerce purchase
Main thing - don't worry. You may be under impression it's hard or impossible to return something - it's not really true. However, you should know main caveats, terms and policies before your purchase and fully know what to expect.
Online purchases are amazing, convenient and easy way to shop for things, just don't treat your large product purchases as personal fitting room experience and you'll be just fine!