Guide to Returning Gifts: Retailers With the Best and Worst Return Policies

| December 26, 2017 | 0 Comments | Email This Post Email This Post

Retailers With the Best and Worst Return Policies

Some stores will let you return anything, even without a receipt. Others shackle returns with time limits and restocking fees.

If you believe it’s the thought that counts, then you won’t be offended if the recipient of a present you’ve given can’t use it for whatever reason. Shopping for other people is difficult. And sometimes even the best-intentioned gift-giver gets it wrong.

According to a 2017 survey of holiday shoppers by the National Retail Federation (PDF), almost two-thirds of people said they made at least one return the past holiday season. Some retailers have a no-questions-asked policy. Others have strict rules that make returning purchases aggravating or impossible.

So why not make it easy for him or her to return it by giving gifts from stores with generous return policies and avoiding those that don’t? Here are retailers with the best and worst policies:

Go to Consumer Reports’ 2017 Holiday Gift Guide for updates on deals, expert product reviews, insider tips on shopping, and much more. And be sure to check our Daily Gift Guide.

Best in the Business for Returning Gifts

Best in the Business for Returning Gifts

Nordstrom. No formal return policy. Returns are handled case by case. No receipts required, no time limits, no original tags needed (except for special occasion dresses).

L.L.Bean. Guarantees “100% satisfaction in every way” and means it: You can exchange or return an item years after purchasing it, even if it’s well-used. Having a gift receipt makes returns easier, but if you don’t, you can exchange for a similar item or get a store credit.

Bed Bath & Beyond. You can return in-store or by mail with no time limit (except for baby and maternity clothes) and free shipping. No gift receipt? An employee can look up purchases made in the last year. If the item can’t be found, you can get a refund for store credit at its current price, minus 20 percent.

Costco. No time limit on returns, except for appliances and electronics, which must go back within 90 days. No receipt necessary.

JCPenney. Accepts returns and exchanges without a receipt at any time, except for appliances, furniture, fine jewelry, and electronics. So if you want to buy tudor watches online, be sure you love them. Formal dresses and electronics require original tags or packaging.

Eddie Bauer. “Every item we sell will give you complete satisfaction or you may return it for a full refund.” That means anytime. With a receipt, you will get a refund. Without a receipt, you will get store credit.

Harry & David. “You and those who receive your gifts must be delighted, or we’ll make it right with either an appropriate replacement or refund. Always. Everything’s guaranteed. No cutting corners. No fudging on quality. No excuses.”

Lands’ End. If you’re dissatisfied with any item, from sheets to slacks, return it anytime for a refund or exchange. The policy states: “We mean every word of it. Whatever. Whenever. Always. But to make sure this is perfectly clear, we’ve decided to simplify it further: Guaranteed. Period.”

Kohl’s. Its “no questions asked, hassle-free” return policy for all purchases has no time limit. No receipt? No problem. Just go to a customer-service counter with the item for an exchange or store credit equal to the lowest price the item sold for in the past 13 weeks. That is, unless you paid with your Kohl’s charge card. Associates can look up any order within 12 months and credit your account. Items bought with other credit cards or returned after the 12-month time frame earn you store credit or a corporate-issued refund. One exception to returns: Premium electronics must be returned within 30 days in original packaging, though if purchased Nov. 1 through Dec. 25, you have until Jan. 31, 2018, to return.

Orvis. “We will refund your money on any purchase that isn’t 100% satisfactory. Anytime, for any reason. It’s that simple.” Orvis says it’s fastest to call its Orvis Easy Exchange number (888-235-9763) to do a return or exchange. Orvis covers the $6.95 shipping fee for exchanges.

Zappos. Free shipping on all domestic orders and free prepaid returns for up to a year, as long as the items are unworn and returned in their original packaging.

Tough Customers for Returning Gifts

Forever 21. You must do returns within 30 days of purchase online or in-store to get an exchange or a refund. If you return by mail, you’ll pay for shipping. For holiday purchases, gift items purchased online through on or after Nov. 13, 2017, are valid for return through Jan. 7, 2018, or within 30 days from the ship date, whichever comes later. Items must be unworn and unwashed, and have original tags attached.

Kmart. Allows 30 days for returns with a receipt. With a gift receipt, you can only exchange or get store credit. No refunds. Many items, including music, movies, software, and video games, are not eligible for return if their packages are opened. For holiday gifts, items bought Nov. 1 through Dec. 24 can be returned through Jan. 31, 2018.

Sears. Returns must be made within 30 days and with a receipt. With a gift receipt, you get an exchange or a gift card. Some items, including consumer electronics, space heaters, and grills, will have a 15 percent restocking fee if used and not in original packaging. For holiday returns, merchandise purchased Nov. 1 through Dec. 24 can be returned through Jan. 31, 2018.

Barnes & Noble. Two weeks to return items bought online or in-store for a refund. Items must be unopened, with receipt. You pay for shipping if mailing a returned item. With a gift receipt, you have 60 days to return for store credit or B&N gift card. B&N is extending its return window for the holidays: Purchases made Nov. 14 through Dec. 31 are refundable or exchangeable through Jan. 31, 2018.

GameStop. Thirty days for returns (7 days for returns of pre-owned items), receipt required. With a gift receipt, items qualify only for exchanges or store credit.

Abe’s of Maine. It has a stingy 14-day return policy. There’s a 15 percent restocking fee on refunds, plus there are no returns on TVs.

American Apparel. Items can be returned within 45 days (we criticized American Apparel for limiting returns of store purchases to 30 days several years ago), but the chain refuses to take back sale merchandise. Also not returnable: swimwear, intimate apparel, cosmetics and grooming products, and any item that’s been laundered. So if the colors run, you’re out of luck.

Best Buy. The return policy for this huge electronics retailer says it wants to deliver the “convenience you deserve.” But convenience probably won’t be the first word you think of when you see its 15-day window for returning most items. The store requires proof of purchase and has a 15 percent restocking fee on certain items, including drones and some digital cameras and lenses. Its holiday return policy is more generous: Items bought in November and December can be returned through Jan. 14, 2018.

Apple Store. Though some of its products may be in big demand, the Apple Store gives you just 14 days to decide whether you’re completely happy with your purchase. You must have a receipt to do an exchange or return. And you cannot return if you didn’t buy it directly from an Apple Store or Apple online. Items purchased online between Nov. 15 and Dec. 25 may be returned through Jan. 8, 2018.

Newegg. This online seller of electronics and other products only guarantees a refund on items returned new and unopened within 30 days or purchase. It refunds 100 percent of items returned within 30 days, but only if they’re defective or unopened. Opened items qualify for just 85 percent of the purchase price. For opened notebooks and desktop PCs, tablets, and TVs, that goes down to 75 percent. For the holidays, it has extended its return window until Jan. 31, 2018, on merchandise bought Nov. 1 through Dec. 24.

4 Tips for Returning Gifts

Don’t open the box. If you try to take back an item and the original packaging isn’t intact, merchants may impose a restocking fee (often 15 percent of the purchase price). That’s especially common for electronics. Other products, such as computer software, CDs, and DVDs, generally aren’t returnable once their packaging has been opened, unless they’re defective. And if products are missing tags, you may be stuck with them.

Keep those gift receipts. Make sure you don’t toss them out with the wrapping paper, because merchants often turn you away if you don’t have one. If you didn’t get a gift receipt (and you don’t want to ask the giver for the original), you may be eligible for store credit, though it may be in the amount of the lowest price the item sold for recently.

Check return policies and note any time limits. You can do that most easily online, or you can ask at a store’s customer-service counter. Big merchants usually allow up to 90 days for most items to be returned, but they may have far shorter periods for certain goods. During the holidays, however, some retailers will extend their deadlines, often until late January. For items purchased online, note whether the merchant also has walk-in store locations and allows in-person returns. That way, you can avoid repacking the item and going to the post office, as well as paying return shipping costs.

Bring ID. Some chains, including Best Buy and Victoria’s Secret, use computerized return-authorization systems to detect abuse. So you may be asked to show your driver’s license or other government-issued ID when you return an item in person. Merchants scan and store data from your ID to track your history, noting such factors as the frequency of your returns, their dollar value, how often you return items without a receipt, and the time between returns.

Editor’s Note: This article was adapted from stories in the December 2016 and December 2017 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.



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