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Refunds Downgrade Deals After Hefty Shipping Charges

Stocking up on pants because of a discount may outweigh handling fees but can be more costly if you want to return them.


Sometimes we have no choice but to become online shoppers.

All I wanted was a pair of "classic fit" khakis from the Gap. Normally I'd head to the nearest store, try on a few pairs, pick the one that fit best and pay $38 plus tax.

This time, my visits to at least half a dozen Gap outlets--including the retailer's flagship store in downtown San Francisco--proved fruitless. Just when I gave up, a coupon arrived with my Discover card statement: Use the card at Gap Online and receive a 10% discount. Sure enough, the online store, at, still carries my preferred style of khakis. In fact, they came in several colors! Armed with the 10% discount, I decided to stock up.

I knew this would be more of a hassle than shopping in person. But I didn't anticipate that it would also turn out to be more expensive.

Even with the 10% discount, the total for my $38 pair of pants came to $63.84. Had I planned my shopping spree more carefully, I could have ended up with the same khakis for $43.89.

The discrepancy stems from shipping and handling charges. Since Gap Online allows customers to return unwanted merchandise to any Gap store, I kept track only of what it would cost to send the pants to me.

I have been buying classic fit khakis for 10 years, so I know that each pair is cut slightly different. That means some pants fit better than others, even if they're all the same size.

In a store, I can get around this problem by bringing several "identical" pairs into the dressing room. Without a second thought, I repeated the strategy online, ordering multiple pairs of what ostensibly were the same pants.

I soon realized that the more khakis I put in my shopping cart, the more money I saved with my 10% discount.

It didn't take long for the savings to outweigh the shipping fees. Once that threshold was passed, I began adding items to my order with abandon.

When it was all over, no less than a dozen pairs of khakis were en route to my house. The $14.95 shipping charge was dwarfed by my $45.60 discount.

When they arrived, only one of the colors was to my liking. None of those four pairs fit as well as the ones I already owned. So I logged back on and ordered four more. With a $15.20 discount and a $11.95 shipping charge, I still came out ahead.

Or so I thought.

As the checker at my local Gap store rang up my return receipt for the 15 pairs of unwanted khakis, I got a sinking feeling. Each return whittled away at my once-substantial discount. But my shipping charges weren't getting correspondingly smaller.

I should have realized this would happen. Rather than swallow $26.90 in shipping charges on a $34.20 pair of discounted pants, I tried to get a refund.

The clerk at the Gap said she was powerless to do anything. She suggested I call Gap's mail order operation directly.

My call was answered by a customer service representative named Diana, who was quite sympathetic to my plight. It turns out that her favorite style of Gap jeans, like my khakis, aren't carried in the stores either. And instead of mocking me, she agreed that no two pants fit the same.

Since my second order was necessary only because none of the pants in my first order fit right, Diana said I should have received free shipping.

That fact was evident nowhere on the Web site. But had I placed my order over the phone ([800] GAP-STYLE), I could have explained my problem and had the shipping fee erased immediately.

I didn't feel I should be penalized for using the Web, so I asked Diana to speak to her manager. He authorized a refund of $11.95.

Then I contemplated the other $14.95 shipping charge. Four of the pants in my original order turned out to be a much darker shade of blue than they appeared to be on the Web site. Perhaps I could get a refund for the cost of shipping them.

But it turns out that any order over $200.01 costs $14.95 to ship. The eight other pants in my first order put me well over that threshold anyway.

Had I begun by ordering the single pair of khakis that I knew I wanted, I would have spent a mere $6.95 on shipping. Then, if they didn't fit, I could have ordered several more pairs with shipping gratis.

This approach would have saved me $8 and considerable hassle. If the classic khakis still aren't on store shelves when my new pair frays, that's what I'll do.


Karen Kaplan covers the Internet. She can be reached at

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