Apple to dump all restocking fees, say reports

Move meant to boost customer service reputation, analyst argues

Apple will ditch its 10 per cent restocking fee for all returned hardware, according to reports by a pair of technology blogs.

The change in policy will take place tomorrow, Jan. 11, both 9to5Mac and Engadget have said. The latter cited unnamed sources who confirmed the earlier speculation by 9to5Mac.

On Tuesday, Verizon is expected to announce that it will soon start selling an iPhone that runs on its CDMA-based network.

As of Monday, however, Apple's policies had not changed.

"Apple will assess a 10 per cent restocking fee on any opened hardware or accessory," the company's site states.

That policy allows customers to return any hardware or accessory other than the iPhone for a refund within 14 days of receiving the item. Customers can return an iPhone within 30 days of purchase, or if it was ordered online, from the date it was shipped.

Apple has relaxed its restocking practices in the past. Last July, for example, Apple dropped the fee for the iPhone following the brouhaha over antenna problems with the then-new iPhone 4.

"This reflects a cost-benefit analysis by Apple," said Ezra Gottheil, an analyst for Technology Business Research, when asked about the purported changes. "They know what the cost is ... and the benefit they evaluate by asking 'How does this reflect on our service?'"

From Gottheil's chair, Apple can easily afford the disappearance of the restocking fees, and gains additional credence as a company that cares about customers.

"This is one of Apple's tricks," said Gottheil. "In Macs, for example, there are price gaps at the entry level between Apple and non-Apple, but their customer service allows potential customers to think about their products differently. Clearly, they want that perception as heightened as possible because it's one of the key differentiators between them and other PC makers."

Although Gottheil had no insider information about the proposed policy change, he suspected it might stem from the increased competition Apple's iPad will face this year.

"They're going to face price competition with tablets [in 2011]," said Gottheil, referring to the expected flood of Android-based tablets, many of which were introduced or at least demonstrated at last week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES). "At some point a price gap will open, and this lets Apple show that their tablet is a different package that includes excellent customer service."

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