“Free Trials” and Restocking Fees

Buying audio equipment online can be a challenge for some.  It makes sense to want to test it out before purchase, but many don’t have a local audio store they can go to and listen or a show nearby where they can see the pieces.  Hence the advent of the “home trial” and “restocking fees.”  What’s the right way for dealers to implement these?  What is fair to the buyer?  What about the dealer?  That’s a tough question.  Audiogon user, Mitch4t, had some concerns about the whole process and asked the users on the Forum for their thoughts.  Read below to see the points they made.


Mitch4t: You are really curious about that $25k amp.  The online dealer will send it to you on a trial basis with a 15% ‘restocking’ fee if you decide not to keep it.  $3,750 gone…if you decide to send it back.  Do you think there should be a cap on restocking fees? Say for up to $25k in equipment, the maximum restocking fee is $1,000?  Or, say a flat %5 fee across the board with the buyer paying shipping both ways?  It seems it would be more profitable just to send equipment out on a trial basis and hope it comes back.  What do you think is a fair way or fair fee to let audiophiles try out internet purchases?

Br3098: The OP’s post is a perfect demonstration of how “audiophiles” are driving audio dealers out of business.

Roscoeiii: I can’t agree with Br3098 that this is what is driving audio dealers out of business.  The marketplace has certainly changed with the advent of the internet, and dealers are going to have to adjust to that.  Many audiophiles are also stuck in a town or city where they cannot audition the gear that they are most interested in locally.

But in response to the OP’s question, the return policy and possible restocking fee should be up to a dealer to determine based on the dealers’ calculations of the potential financial gain and loss from these policies.  A returned product can no longer be sold as new, so the restocking fee can help the dealer take less of a loss for a returned item.  Also, a restocking fee may separate the more likely buyers from gear swappers who just want to try something different out.

On the other hand, other dealers seem to have decided that not having a restocking fee will potentially attract more buyers to their business, and that makes up for the likely higher number of returns from buyers who are only out the cost of shipping.

Hevac1: I would prefer to take a dealer’s demo home for a weekend than buy a new piece of equipment for a 30 day in home trial. It takes longer than 30 days for equipment to break in properly.  I figure the dealer demo is well broken in and is a true representation of what my system will sound like over time.  You cannot underestimate the advantage of a brick and mortar store in the decision making of a good and balanced system.

Jea48: The online dealer may be calling the charge a restocking fee, but, if the guy is honest and doesn’t try to resale the equipment as new, he is using the fee to offset the cost to resale the unit as used, open box, demo, or what ever the dealer wants to call it.  Would you pay $25K for an amp that somebody had in their home before you?  Or would you demand a new unopened factory fresh sealed unit?


It seems reasonable that a fee must be put in place to make up for the loss the seller takes on having to sell the item as opened, used, or demo equipment.  It also makes up for any damage to the component.  So it’s not really used for “restocking.”  However, dealers need to be upfront about what the fee is at the time of purchase or loan.  It isn’t really fair to advertise this as a “free trial.”

What do you think is fair in this situation?  How much of a restocking fee are you willing to pay?  Do you like the idea of home trials?  Share your opinion below!


  1. In general, I do not buy into the use of ‘restocking fees’. Many dealers advertise nationally to reach a broader customer base, and they many of them have demo equipment that they will send to perspective customers for evaluation (with the customer often being responsible for the shipping costs). After the demo period the customer can have options to return the demo unit, order a new unit, or possibly purchase the demo. In cases where the dealer does not have a demo to send out for evaluation, he sometimes will send a new unit. If we are talking about a more modest piece of equipment that gets returned after the demo period, the dealer can still sell it as a demo and make a smaller profit. The situation obviously gets a little tricky for more expensive equipment when a new unit is sent out for evaluation. For me, unless I was already familiar with the specific equipment, I would not want a equipment to evaluate that is not already broken in. If I were going to shell out $25k for a piece of equipment, I would go through a local dealer (assuming there is one) or look to buy used where any loss on resale can be minimal.

  2. I am totally against restocking fees. When I drop serious money for an elite luxury item, I am looking for superior customer service and policy. The worst customer service stores “for the masses” have no restocking fees, walmart, target, etc. If the cheapest stores can do it, then luxury stores can too. I simply will not buy from anywhere with a restocking fee. I think paying for shipping is acceptable (although I can argue that should also be covered), but nothing else. If somebody wants to return something in 30 days, they should have this ability without taking a hit. Your buying a $25k product, your seller should guarantee 100% satisfaction. High end audio is based on customer service, they should deliver. The customer pays a very high premium on these items to begin with so expecting high end service should be baseline.

  3. A restocking fee should only apply if a product is special ordered for a
    customer and returned or if the dealer does not have a demo unit they
    can send out for evaluation and only has a new one to send out (that
    will not be a future demo). The majority of the time that a unit is opened, used and returned it can not be sold as new. Therefore, a restocking fee may be applied with the idea that the unit is to be sold as a used piece at a discount.

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