USPS Returns Agent: Meaning?

Here’s what the USPS returns agent message means:

Basically, this message means that USPS is working with a company to process a return.

Typically, the returns agent is a middleman that scans the package as a retail return and ensures that it makes it to the right person with the original sending company.

In short, the return is processing.

So if you want to learn all about when and why you’re getting the USPS returns agent message, then this article is for you.

Let’s dig into it!

USPS Returns Agent: Meaning? (Everything to Know)

What Does the USPS Returns Agent Message Mean?

thoughtful woman holding eyeglasses while looking at digital tablet device

Let’s clarify the error message in question before we get deep into the details of what it means.

You might see a few variations.

Some of the most common look like “tendered to returns agent” or “your item has been tendered to the returns agent.”

You might see other variations, but they all mean the same thing.

The very short answer is that your item is being returned to the company you originally bought it from.

Or, if you’re a seller, an item you sold is being returned to you, usually for a refund (although exchanges can also trigger this message).

More specifically, this message is telling you that the item in question is being processed by a USPS returns agent.

That actually involves a specific process that includes more than simply getting a package to its destination.

But, that part probably makes a little more sense if we first go over the returns agent.

What Is a USPS Returns Agent?

female warehouse worker scans packages at desk

The first thing to understand is that returns agents are not specific to USPS.

Any shipping company can have a returns agent, and theoretically, companies that don’t do any shipping at all can still have returns agents.

The original question is in regards to USPS, so that’s what I’m going to focus on, but I wanted to clarify that returns agents are common positions in a lot of companies.

So, what is the agent, and what do they do?

To put it simply, they process returns.

In the case of a USPS agent, they’re processing a return on behalf of a company.

Now, considering that we’re talking about a shipping entity, this might be a little confusing.

When something is shipped, it can be returned to the sender. In fact, that’s a common thing that happens.

What I want you to understand is that this is NOT what I’m talking about right now.

Instead, the returns agent is processing a transactional return on behalf of the company that placed the shipping order.

So, if you go to your local Walmart and buy something at the store, you can potentially return that item.

When you do, Walmart has to scan the item back into their system and issue you a refund.

That’s a retail return.

The returns agent at USPS is essentially processing the return on behalf of the company involved in this transaction.

It involves a special label, and this process makes it a lot easier for businesses to handle returns for online orders.

So, the returns agent as USPS is ultimately making sure the package goes back to the selling company, but they’re going through the procedure for this specialized return along the way.

With that in mind, we can revisit the message.

The item is with a returns agent because more than just shipping is involved.

When Do You See the USPS Returns Agent Message? (4 Scenarios)

smiling woman reading a message on smartphone at home

Hopefully, you have an idea of what it means to go through a returns agent.

Since you do, it’s probably easier to understand when and why you might see this message.

As a business owner, you would see this message whenever USPS is processing a return for you as part of a paid service.

As a customer, you would see this after you drop off an item that you’re returning to the original seller.

I’m going to take you through both of those situations in a little more detail.

I’m also going to cover a few additional scenarios where you might see this message, and in those less-common situations, the message might seem a little more out of place or confusing.

#1 You’re Returning a Delivered Item

deliveryman making notes in "return to vendor" delivery

This is the primary condition where you’re going to see this type of message, as the recipient.

As I already explained, the message is telling you that the USPS is acting as a returns agent, so everything is actually working normally here.

In general, there are two times when you, as a buyer, will see this message.

Either you’re trying to get a refund, or you’re trying to get some type of exchange or replacement.

Less commonly, it might be related to a repair.

The refund is pretty easy to understand.

You order an item. It comes.

Something isn’t right with the item, so you ask for a refund.

The company you originally ordered from provides the shipping labels.

You drop off the item, using those labels, for a refund.

When the item makes it to a USPS processing center, the returns agent does their thing, and you get this update.

In this case, you’re clued into the messages because you’re technically the sender.

Another similar scenario might happen if you received a defective product.

Let’s say you ordered a can opener from Amazon.

You get it, and it can’t open cans. So, you talk to Amazon.

Maybe you want a refund, but we already covered that.

You might instead want to get the item replaced or exchanged.

In that case, Amazon probably still wants the can opener back, so you use their return labels, and it’s the same story regarding returns agents.

The last one involves repair, and it’s less common.

You might see this if you have an Apple computer that needs repair. (This is just an example. Plenty of other companies could fit this mold).

Typically, a repair is not going to run through a returns agent because it’s not a return.

It’s a whole other thing.

But, since Apple does run their own repair centers and some of them are attached to delivery centers, you might see some occasions where this message comes up.

Basically, you get a computer that doesn’t work, so you send it back for immediate repair.

Rather than create a new shipping order, Apple simply uses the return labels that were already available for the order.

Those labels effectively get the computer to Apple so they can fix it, and things go through a returns agent.

Again, it’s uncommon, but it is still possible.

#2 The Order Was Canceled After Shipping Began

cancel order text button on smart phone screen

A less common time you might see this message as a customer is if you cancel the order after it ships but before you receive it.

Generally, there is a shipping process already designed that kicks into play when this happens.

So, the item is never delivered to you, but you don’t see any messages regarding a returns agent.

But, it’s possible that the shipping conditions would be just right so it makes sense to use the return labels that are already available.

Say you cancel the order after it already makes it to your local USPS.

There could be an uncommon scenario where USPS wants to use a new label for the return, and the company involved authorizes the use of a returns label. 

If that happens, you’re still part of the communication chain, so you might see something involving a returns agent.

#3 Someone Returned Your Item

cardboard boxes with labels stacked on the table with a laptop

But, the most common time you’ll see this message is when you are the seller accepting a return.

In this case, you are Amazon (so to speak).

You sell an item and ship it to the customer.

They receive it.

For whatever reason, they want to send it back to you, so you provide a return label.

They drop the box off at a USPS center.

Once there, the returns agent does their thing, and you’re essentially getting a return processing service that you paid for by purchasing the return label.

In case this isn’t clear enough, the returns agent isn’t just processing a shipping label.

The returns label is specialized in that it allows USPS to scan an item into your returns records.

Basically, it’s consolidating the record-keeping so that you know this item isn’t just being shipped to your store; it’s an official return.

You’re giving back money, and you’re getting the original item back as part of the exchange.

If you enlist this service from USPS, then you’re going to see the message whenever you utilize it.

#4 There Was a Mistake

angry male customer with an opened parcel talking on the phone

The last thing to consider is that there might be a mistake somewhere in the process.

USPS is certainly capable of messing up when scanning items through the system.

That’s not intended as an insult to the organization.

They handle many millions of packages a day.

Sometimes mistakes happen.

Whether the item is scanned wrong, the wrong label is printed, the wrong label is used, or anything else happens, you might see this message even though a return is not in process.

As a buyer, it would be particularly confusing, especially if you have the item in your possession.

As a seller, it can be equally confusing if the item is being shipped to you but you aren’t issuing a refund.

There are a ton of ways mistakes can manifest, and a ton more ways this can all conclude.

The point is that sometimes USPS isn’t actually processing a return.

Other times, they’re processing a return when they shouldn’t be.

Either way, it’s a mistake.


  • Theresa McDonough

    Tech entrepreneur and founder of Tech Medic, who has become a prominent advocate for the Right to Repair movement. She has testified before the US Federal Trade Commission and been featured on CBS Sunday Morning, helping influence change within the tech industry.

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