UPDATE 1-Sam's Club tightens electronics return policy

Wed Sep 23, 2009 4:17pm EDT

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SAN FRANCISCO, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc's (WMT.N) Sam's Club chain said on Wednesday that its U.S. warehouse clubs are now offering free technical support for consumer electronics, but it is toughening up its return policy for such items.

Sam's Club Tech Experts will help customers who have questions about installing and setting up their consumer electronics, and they will also assist with trouble shooting.

The No. 2 U.S. warehouse club operator also said it is now offering customers home delivery service, starting at $50, and installation packages, starting at $89.

But as of Nov. 1, Sam's Club said it will accept returns only within 90 days on purchases of consumer electronics including TVs, computers, cameras, camcorders, projectors and iPods.

Previously, under its policy of 100 percent satisfaction, customers could have returned these items at any time.

The move comes more than two years after Costco Wholesale Corp (COST.O), the No. 1 U.S. warehouse club operator, instituted a 90-day return policy on consumer electronics amid concern its open-ended return policy was hurting margins.

Consumer electronics retailers have been offering technology services as a way to differentiate themselves and cut down on the number of electronics, particularly flat-panel TVs, that are returned after customers get the gadgets home but cannot use them properly.

As part of a pilot program, Wal-Mart last year opened "Solution Stations" in partnership with Dell DELL.O in a small number of its Dallas-area stores to offer technology services, like home theater installation and computer repair.

But Wal-Mart spokeswoman Melissa O'Brien said that pilot has ended, and the discount retailer is studying other possible models for offering services.

She also said Wal-Mart's return policy for consumer electronics varies depending upon the product, but can range in time from 15 days to 90 days, with a receipt.

Sam's Club said electronics purchased prior to Nov. 1 would be grandfathered under its existing return policy. (Reporting by Nicole Maestri; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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