Once the year-end shopping season is over, many gift recipients are saddled with the frustrating task of dealing with a retailer’s cumbersome return policy. No matter how much thought or sentiment goes into gifting, we’re sometimes on the receiving end of an item we’re thankful for but, for one reason or another, we’d like to return or exchange for something else.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult to do so when many stores don’t offer a large time window or put restrictions in place that dictate which merchandise is available for return and the form of repayment you can receive.
Don’t let an unwanted gift collect dust on your shelf in 2015 just because you couldn’t return it. We examined the most popular retailers across the country, and are listing the dozen stores that offer the best return policies to help you save money (and hopefully get your hands on the gift you really want).
METHODOLOGY: This study investigated return policies for the top U.S. retailers based on 2014 U.S. retail sales and brand loyalty rankings. Factors used in determining the best and worst rankings were whether a receipt or invoice is needed at return, whether the retailer permits in-store return processing for online purchases, available time limit for returning goods, the refund type offered at return, and any additional features or services provided that improve customer experience when returning items.
Supermarkets and restaurants were not considered.
Costco: Members of this colossal warehouse store get plenty of perks on their purchases upfront, but also on the returns end. You can find almost anything at Costco, and most items purchased have no time limit to return them, with your choice of a refund in hard cash or a check. This prevents gift receipts from limiting the item’s replacement options year-round.
One of the only exceptions is for Costco’s electronics return policy: Costco’s return policy generally enforces a 90-day period for projectors, computers, cameras, camcorders, tablets, MP3 players and cellphones. No receipt? No problem. Returns can be conducted with just the membership number used to buy the gift at some locations.
Kohl’s: Kohl’s keeps its customers loyal with constant opportunities to find discounts through rotating sales, online promo codes and Kohl’s Cash. Kohl’s return policy is top notch, too. Take up to a full year from an item’s original date of purchase to return it for a cash refund. Wait longer, or lose your receipt, and it turns into your choice of store credit or refund check.
Kohl’s has some rules in place regarding receipts: If you have the original, you qualify for a full refund or even exchange. Gift receipts qualify for a merchandise credit.
L.L. Bean: There’s not much to say in the way of restrictions or exceptions for L.L. Bean’s return policy; in fact, it likens its customer guarantee to the promise that comes with a handshake. According to the outdoor retailer’s website, “If your purchase isn’t completely satisfactory, we’re happy to accept your exchange or return at any time.”
No matter if it’s a cable-knit sweater or a pair of weather-resistant duck boots you’ve changed your mind about, L.L. Bean imposes no time limits on when you can return an item, regardless of its condition. There’s just one exception: Without a receipt you won’t be eligible for a cash refund, but will be issued a gift card worth the item’s current selling price.
Lowe’s: Lowe’s return policy has a default window of 90 days to decide on a cash refund or direct exchange. However, you have only 30 days to return major appliances, like refrigerators, washing machines, dryers, range hoods, outdoor power equipment and trailers.
If your receipt is lost or misplaced, Lowe’s compensates refunds better than most stores on this list, since your receipt can be retrieved using the credit card, checking account number or MyLowe’s card used to make the purchase, or through your phone number. Store credit is given in place of cash for returns without a valid receipt.
Macy’s: Macy’s return policy also has no time-limit restrictions to return a gift purchase; however, the retailer is a bit more stringent with its receipt policy. Shoppers who have a gift receipt will be issued credit for the full purchase amount through a Macy’s gift card; those without a receipt will still receive a gift card but worth only the item’s lowest selling price in the last 180 days. Online orders can also be returned in store.
Nordstrom: The Nordstrom return policy comes closest to having zero restrictions and no time limits for bringing in a gift for refund. As long as an item doesn’t show any excessive signs of wear and tear, and Nordstrom still carries the product in store or online, you’ll get a full refund. Just remember to bring identification.
Nordstrom also doesn’t have a formal return policy in place regarding receipts. When a customer doesn’t have the original purchase or gift receipts, the company normally deals with these transactions case by case.
REI: With some merchandise, like outdoor gear, there’s no way to really know if it holds up to your needs until you use it. That’s why REI has a 100 percent guarantee and open returns policy, so you’re free to return any item that’s technically been used, tags removed and all.
Don’t wait through three winters before deciding, however; the REI return policy deadline is one year after purchase and 30 days for outlet-store items. To get a full refund, you’ll need proof of purchase, whether in the form of a store or gift receipt, shipping invoice or store membership number.
Target: Target hits the bull’s-eye with its no-frills return policy: Any unopened item in its original condition can be returned within 90 days, with certain exceptions (like electronics and entertainment, which won’t be accepted for returns or exchanges after 30 days). For electronics and entertainment products purchased between Nov. 1 and Dec. 25, the 30-day refund period begins on Dec. 26.
In-store returns are standard, but the Target online return policy is a little different. Target provides customers prepaid shipping labels, so the only price you have to pay is the time spent mailing your goods back.
If you plan to use Target’s return policy without a receipt, you will need to show a valid, government-issued photo ID. For gift receipts, you’ll be reimbursed with a Target gift card. Those who have a Target REDcard receive an extended returns period of 30 additional days.
Home Depot: Didn’t receive the right tools needed for your next home-improvement project? If they were bought at Home Depot, bring them back within the retailer’s general return time of 90 days (unless your receipt notes otherwise). The Home Depot return policy for expired returns and those lacking a receipt won’t receive cash back, but you’ll still be able to receive store credit at the returned item’s lowest selling price.
Gift givers and receivers should note that any special order returns or cancelations are subject to a 15 percent restocking fee and must be returned to the same store location where they were purchased.
Toys R Us: If your friend or relative bought you the wrong gift, it can easily be returned or exchanged with the Toys R Us return policy at any retail location within 90 days of purchase — either in store or online. The Babies R Us return policy is the same. Computer hardware is eligible for returns up to 15 days after purchase.
According to the store’s website, items must be returned in new or like-new condition, with all original packaging and instructions intact. Music, computer merchandise and personal-care items apply only for exchanges if their original packaging has been opened.
Wal-Mart: Like Target, Wal-Mart has a reputation of discounting its sale prices but never skimping on its return policy. At any store location, you can bring back an item for return within 90 days, except for Wal-Mart’s electronic return policy, which has a return expiration of 15 to 30 days. During the holidays, the return-period start date for these items is Dec. 26, and not the day of purchase.
Returns must be in their original packaging, but if you’re missing your receipt, customers have the option of getting a cash refund for purchases less than $25; a gift card for purchases over $25; or an even exchange on all items without proof of purchase. Wal-Mart’s return policy for no receipt allows you to make three no-receipt returns within a 45-day period.
Zappos: If there’s one thing more impressive than Zappos’ shoe selection, it’s that its shipping is free and fast. The Zappos return policy isn’t too shabby, either: If you’ve received the wrong size, or you’re unhappy with the color or style, Zappos will refund the full price up to one year from purchase, just as long as the shoes haven’t been worn and are in their original packaging. It will also cover the shipping costs.
Did you happen to buy some shoes on a Leap Year day? You’re special! Zappos will give you until the next Leap Year to return those orders – a four-year window. That’s pretty awesome if you’re the indecisive type.