Consumers expect free shipping and free returns from companies such as Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT). As a matter of fact, one of Amazon’s most popular services, Amazon Prime, has among its features free two-day shipping on millions of the products the e-commerce company sells. Much more subtlety, Apple is in the free shipping business too. Added to that service, Apple also offers the ability to return products bought online for free as well.
Observers of Apple’s sales tactics might well ask why the company, which is the world’s premier provider of tablets and smartphones, has to offer customers any incentive beyond the superiority and prices of its products.
Apple’s free shipping offer has, among its features, one that is common to other e-commerce operations. People can order products online and pick them up at company retail stores. In Apple’s case, the turnaround is rapid. Consumers can buy Apple products online, and in most cases they can be picked up at Apple stores in an hour. The ability to offer this speaks to Apple’s sophisticated inventory control.
Apple’s standard free shipping package is that anything purchased online for a price of more than $50 ships free. Since Apple has very few products that sell for under $50, the offer might as well be viewed as available across all of Apple’s iPods, iPhones, iPads and Macs.
Of course, all free shipping is not created equal. Among the fine print in Apple’s free shipping arrangement is the fact that the wait could be as long as five days, unless people want to spend a good deal more for upgraded service:
Once the item leaves our warehouse, the Shipping Method you choose on the Checkout page determines how quickly your shipped item delivers to your doorstep. You can choose a different Shipping Method for each item on your order.
- Guaranteed Standard Shipping → Delivers within 5 business days*
- Guaranteed 2 Day Shipping → Delivers within 2 business days
- Guaranteed 2-3 Business Day Shipping → Delivers within 2-3 business days
- Guaranteed Next Day Shipping → Delivers within 1 business day
- Guaranteed Next Day Shipping, before noon → Delivers before noon the day after the product is available
*Items shipped Standard via United States Postal Service deliver within 5 to 7 business days after shipping.
So much for instant gratification.
As for returns, the rules are no less subtle:
Standard Return Policy
There are a few important things to keep in mind when returning a product you purchased from the U.S. Apple Online Store:
- You have 14 calendar days to return an item from the date you received it.
- Only items that have been purchased directly from Apple, either through the Apple Online Store or at an Apple Retail Store, can be returned to Apple. Apple products purchased through other retailers must be returned in accordance with their respective returns and refunds policy.
- Please ensure that the item you’re returning is repackaged with all the cords, adapters and documentation that were included when you received it.
There are some items, however, that are ineligible for return, including:
- Opened software*
- Electronic Software Downloads
- Software Up-to-Date Program Products (software upgrades)
- Apple Store Gift Cards
- Apple Developer Connection Products (Membership and Technical Support)
- Apple Print Products
*You can return software, provided that it has not been installed on any computer. Software that contains a printed software license may not be returned if the seal or sticker on the software media packaging is broken.
Put simply, you break it and you own it.