I returned my defective hard drives to Amazon. What’s this $546 restocking fee?

Illustration by Dustin ELLIOTT


When Akin Williams’ Western Digital hard drives don’t work, he tries to return them to Amazon. But the seller wants to charge him a $546 restocking fee. Is that legit?


Q: I recently bought four Western Digital hard drives through Amazon. The drives were defective.

I contacted the manufacturer and confirmed in writing that the drives were defective due to the loud grinding noises being made when they were in operation. When I told the Amazon seller of the defective condition, a representative told me they would not issue a full refund of the purchase but that I could return the drives to the manufacturer. This was after I forwarded them the manufacturer’s recommendation that I should return the drives to the seller.

When I returned the drives, the reseller assessed a restocking fee of $546 against the original purchase price. It claimed “heavy usage” of the item. In the four days that I used the drives, they were not heavily used. However, I did have to erase sensitive information from both drives before returning them.

I have spoken to Amazon several times this week about this seller’s return policy but, due to the seller’s claim that the only damage to the drives was as a result of use and not defect, they have chosen to back the seller’s decision to impose a restocking fee.

I was hoping that Amazon would intervene in this situation. The seller has the drives back and they can still exercise the warranty to get new drives at full value whereas I have lost a lot of money through no fault of my own. My decision to return the drives was based on Amazon’s assurance that I would receive assistance in getting a refund. Sadly, that no longer seems to be the case. – Akin Williams, Atlanta

A: A restocking fee is a charge a business sometimes applies when a customer returns an item and receives a refund. The fee covers the expense of erasing a phone or laptop and placing the item back on the shelves (hence the name “restocking”). Some electronics businesses charge restocking fees of between 10% and 20% but yours was more than 50%, which is not reasonable.

As you noted, the Amazon seller could return your Western Digital drives to the manufacturer for a full refund, which means it would make a tidy profit from your storage unit. That’s wrong.

Could you have avoided this? Maybe. It’s almost impossible to screen a business based on its restocking fees – it’s not as if they are disclosed when you buy an item. Amazon works with a network of businesses that fulfill orders and as I look back at your order I just don’t see how you could have known.

But I do think Amazon could have offered you better support after you purchased a defective product. Amazon’s A-toZ guarantee covers a product purchased through the site that is damaged, defective or materially different from what you ordered. Under the guarantee, a reseller can’t charge you a restocking fee; it must refund everything, regardless of what the manufacturer says. I have more information on Amazon’s guarantee in my ultimate guide to Amazon returns on my consumer advocacy site,

Bottom line: Amazon should have stepped up. I see you kept an excellent paper trail and even reached out to some of the Amazon executives I list on my consumer advocacy site.

Your case is an important reminder to document everything when a product doesn’t work. If your hard drive is grinding, take a video of it and share it with the business. I think in your case the more visual evidence you had of the breakdown the less likely you would have been charged a restocking fee of more than 50%. Also, I think Amazon should enforce the terms of their guarantee policy but that’s another discussion.

I contacted Amazon on your behalf. It refunded you the entire amount of your purchase.

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy (, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers solve their problems. Email him at or get help by contacting him at

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