Apple needs a better App Store refund method

My personal experience with Apple's refund policy and App developer assistance. I also offer a solution, if anyone's listening.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor on

All sales and rentals of products are final. That is the single sentence underITUNES STORE, MAC APP STORE, APP STORE, AND IBOOKSTORE TERMS OF SALE of Apple's iTunes Store Terms and Conditions page. In plain English, it translates to a no return policy. In other words, if you buy something that you don't like or don't want, you can't return it. Although, Apple does have a problem reporting procedure under its Support area, I believe that the general rule is that you can't get your money back under normal circumstances. There are a few sites around that explain how you can get your money back using this method but they also tell you that there's no guarantee of any return.

If you call the developer, as suggested in the body of the How to report a problem with your iTunes Store purchase, shown here:

Note: You cannot use Report a Problem for free content or In-App Purchases. For issues with free apps or In-App Purchases, you will need to contact the developer. The developer's contact information can be found on the application's information page from the App Store. To report a problem with a free song, contact iTunes Store Support.

There's still no guarantee of a satisfactory remedy via return or exchange. It's simply a problem reporting avenue.

The following is my very own story that happened just last week.

I've had my OG iPad (iPad 1) for about a year now and I've made a few App purchases that I don't like or can't use. And, to my surprise, there's no good way for me to ask for my money back.

I found the Report a Problem page and procedure, after doing a bit of research and I tried to use it but it didn't work. Each time I clicked the Report a Problem button next to the purchase, it opened a browser to a blank page. Very frustrating.

So, I did more research and found the excerpt shown above about In-App purchases. You can't report an In-App purchase via the Report a Problem method. It states that I have to contact the developer. And, that's what I did next.

The developer's customer service representative listened to my long spiel about my dilemma of selecting audio content, when I really wanted video content and just happened to have tapped the wrong link for the two purchases I made. I should have recorded that call for playback. But, here, to my recollection is how it went. KH is me. CS is the Customer Service rep who I spoke with.

KH: Hi, I bought two audio selections instead of the two videos that I really wanted. Can I exchange them for video?

CS: Hmm, no, that's an In-App purchase and that all goes through the App Store.

KH: So, I can't exchange them?

CS: Maybe, through the App store. We don't handle any of that and Apple doesn't really provide a good method for returns or exchanges.

KH: Really? Wow. So, I'm stuck with these two $3.99 purchases that I don't want and now I have to also buy the video content that I originally wanted?

CS: I'm afraid so, unless you can somehow get Apple to exchange them. We don't have any way to do that.

KH: I'm beginning to see a pattern here that I don't like.

CS: Yes, sir, they just don't give us a way to do it and they don't have a good way either.

KH: Got it. Thanks. Here's another problem I'm having. When I try to listen to the audio content, it crashes the App.

CS: That sounds like an unstable App and the developer will have to fix that.

KH: Your company is the developer.

CS: Right, well, then you'll have to wait for an update.

KH: Great, thanks.

For the total of $7.98, it just isn't worth my time to pursue it any further. Maybe that's what developers are hoping for--that you just don't want to bother pursuing a refund for an App that costs you less than a dollar.

It sounds like a pretty good racket, doesn't it? But, I don't think it's totally Apple's fault. Apple might have assumed that people are smart enough to make good choices. After all, there are App descriptions supplied with the Apps, there is a clear-cut price on the left side of the App description and there are screenshots of what the App looks like in use. I think Apple might have assumed too much in the smart and informed customer realm. In my case, they certainly did and I'm tech savvy.

Unfortunately, not every App works like it should or lives up to its description. There are also Apps that you can buy that state that they're compatible with the iPhone, iPod and iPad but they're really for the smaller form factor of the iPhone and iPod. Sure, they work on the iPad, but it's the wrong format. And, that 2X button doesn't make it better, so don't go there.

I'm not accusing anyone of being less than upright about ethics or business practices but there should be an easier way to get a refund. If you can make an In-App purchase, why not an In-App refund? How about an App on the main page or an option under Settings to remove and refund an App? I don't want to have to open iTunes and mess with its need to update every time I open it and then check my account--it just wears me thin. And, then to subsequently pursue a refund after waiting for a long time for all that updating, rebooting and iTunes restarting. It's just too much trouble.

Over the course of the past year, I've bought maybe $20 in Apps that I consider to be worthless and I've removed them from my devices. I have assumed, like a lot of you, that I have no recourse and can't get a refund. Your mileage may vary but you might be able to get a refund if your complaint falls into one of the following categories:

  • I didn't receive this application.
  • I inadvertently purchased this application.
  • This application does not function as expected.
  • This application is not compatible with my device.
  • I have another purchase or download-related question.

And, then you have room in the Comments section to plead your case. No guarantees.
Will I pursue refunds for my bad purchases? Probably not. Should you? If you have the time and feel compelled, then sure. Why not?

I don't want to call the developer's customer service line again and argue that they are, in fact, responsible for returning my money or giving me an exchange. Too much trouble. And, maybe, if they update the App, I can actually listen to the information, even if I have also bought the corresponding videos.

I'm not one to just complain about something without offering a solution. So, here's my solution. Apple, I hope your taking notes.

As stated earlier, we need a better way to obtain a refund on the device itself via Settings, an App or In-App for those unsupported In-App purchases. Just make a rule that developers have to offer an In-App refund method. Also, I don't want to use iTunes anymore. That's why I updated everything to iOS 5.0. I want everything, including my purchase history, to be kept in iCloud. Why shouldn't it be?

Have you requested a refund from Apple's App Store? Were you successful? How do you think Apple and developers should handle refunds and exchanges? Talk back and let me know.

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