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Reader question: Under what conditions can I return a purchase to a store in Switzerland?

Reader question: Under what conditions can I return a purchase to a store in Switzerland?
Think twice before you make a purchase. Photo by Axel Heimken / AFP
Too big, too small, or not the right colour. This is what you can — and can’t — do if you suffer from “buyer’s remorse” in Switzerland.

At one time or another, many of us have bought something that we really liked, or thought we absolutely needed, only to change our minds afterwards.

What can you do with this unwanted merchandise in Switzerland?

Before you purchase something in a shop, whether in a physical store or online, find out what the terms and conditions of sale are, as well as the return policy.

Generally speaking, it is easier to return merchandise to larger retailers, such as national chains, which usually issue refunds without much fuss if you have the proof of purchase and are bringing back the items within the pre-determined period of time — usually 30 days.

The item must be in its original condition, that is, unworn and unused. In case of an electrical appliance that breaks after use, it will be refunded or exchanged according to conditions of its warranty.

Small, privately-owned shops may be more restrictive in that sense, offering exchanges or sales vouchers instead of refunds.

In all cases, some kind of return / refund policy applies, unless there is a visible sign in a shop that says “All sales are final”.

This usually happens during big discounts or clearance sales, or if the retailer is selling its entire stock because the store is closing.

What about online purchases?

Unlike the European Union law, which allows consumers to cancel online purchases, Swiss legislation does not grant this right. However, customers do have the right to send the merchandise back according to conditions outlined by the seller.

Usually, you can return anything that is undamaged and still in its original packaging for a full refund.

If the packaging has been opened, most Swiss online retailers will deduct a minimum amount of 10 percent. That’s because electronics retailers can’t resell products for the full price if they have been opened, according to consumer comparison site Comparis.ch.

However, a few online retailers are more generous in their return and refund policies.

Among them are Zalando, Digitec / Galaxus and Amazon, which accept returns within 30 days of purchase. And Zalando also has the most generous return policy, since customers don’t have to pay the cost of sending the merchandise back, while nearly all other companies require consumers to pay for shipping charges for all the returns.

What happens if you order from abroad?

This is a very pertinent point, as under the Swiss law it is possible to obtain a domain name ending in .ch, even though these companies are  located abroad. This has proven to be misleading to many Switzerland-based customers.

That’s why many clients who believe they are ordering from a supplier in Switzerland are actually buying from a foreign company — a fact that they only discover when they have to pay customs duty.

Unless specific exclusions apply — which you should find out before purchasing — you can send the items back. However, since they will be shipped abroad, you will have to pay higher charges than if you were mailing to a company in Switzerland.

The only way to avoid this trap is to call the number on the company’s website and ask where they are located.

The Federal Consumer Affairs Bureau has more information about your rights to a refund.


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