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Some Stores Naughty, Most Nice;
Many Now Offer Free Return Shipping on Internet Purchases

shopping (BOSTON-Dec. 16, 2015) -- Based on its annual return policy survey, reports that while some stores are tweaking their return rules to add new restrictions or offer new benefits, most retailers' return policies have remained about the same as last year.

More online stores are providing free return shipping this year. And, many retailers are offering special extended holiday return windows. This allows gifts bought in November to be returned until mid- to late-January, considerably beyond the normal return deadline in some cases.

Stores also continue to "slice and dice" their return policies, creating complicated rules for different categories of items. Electronic items may be subject to stricter rules than say, clothing. Computers, game consoles, and opened goods may be subject to limited return rights, restocking fees, or shorter return periods. Some stores track shoppers' return frequency. Restrictions like this are aimed at reducing return fraud which will cost retailers an estimated $9.1 billion in 2015.

The complexity of stores' return policies is underscored by their sheer length. The policies of the dozen stores in the accompanying chart span some 68 pages, totaling over 26,000 words.

Noteworthy policies, policy changes, or unusual return policies for 2015 include:

  • Continuing last year's new trend, 49% of online retailers surveyed now offer "free returns" where the store pays the return shipping for unwanted items in many categories, according to the National Retail Federation. Some of them include: Macy's, Target, Saks, Gap, Bloomingdale's, Old Navy, Amazon (certain "fashion" items only), and PayPal (1st time).

  • Sears dropped its 30/60/90 day return policy depending on an item's category. Now most items must be returned within 30 days.

  • Costco tightened its return policy slightly. It posted a pre-existing no returns policy online for tires and custom orders which had not been previously disclosed there. Replacement of car batteries is now only available in limited circumstances via the manufacturer's warranty.

  • Target added a one-year exchange/refund provision for its own brand of products.

          Unusual policies:

  • Toys"R"Us has a secret holiday return policy, not posted in stores checked, not known by most store personnel asked, and not online with its regular return policy as of December 15th.

  • Target REDcard holders get 30 extra return days. Items that are opened/damaged/receipt-less may be denied a refund or exchange. Best Buy adds more time for elite members too.

  • Express "do not remove" tags and Bloomingdale's "b-tags" on certain clothing must remain attached to be returned to deter "wardrobing" - buying then returning after a one-time use.

  • Without a receipt, Walmart gives customers the option of a cash refund (if the purchase was under $25), a gift card for the amount of the purchase (if it was over $25), or an even exchange. Shoppers can only make three no receipt returns within a 45 day period. Walmart tracks returns in a database and may deny a return that exceeds the store's limits.

    "If shoppers follow the rules, they should have many happy returns," said Edgar Dworsky, Founder of Consumer World®, a leading online consumer resource guide. "But, since the rules vary so much from store to store, you really have to read the fine print."

    Below are some chains with generous regular or holiday return deadlines for purchases made in their brick and mortar locations, unless otherwise stated: January 31 for most items shipped 11/01 thru 12/31. No refunds on downloads.
    Best Buy January 15 for most purchases Nov. 1 - Dec. 31. Elite members get more time.
    Costco No deadline, but 90 days: TVs, computers, cameras, MP3 players, cellphones, projectors.
    Kohl's No deadline.
    Macy's stores No deadline, but some furniture (3 days), some mattresses (60). Receipt or return label gets price paid. 15% restocking fees on some items.
    Marshalls January 23 for purchases Oct. 18 - Dec. 24. This retailer posts clear in-store signs about their extended holiday return policy. January 31 for most items purchased Nov. 1 or later. Fees apply if opened, used, or late.
    Sears January 24 deadline for most 30 day items except major appliances purchased Nov. 8 on; Report certain damaged goods within 72 hours or no refund; Even exchange only on some open items; 15% restocking fee on electronics missing parts; furniture, etc.
    Staples No deadline for office supplies. January 16 for electronics & furniture bought since Nov. 22.
    TJ Maxx January 23 for purchases Oct. 18 - Dec. 24. This retailer posts clear in-store signs about their extended holiday return policy.
    Target 90 days most items, except 30 days for electronics and entertainment items, but 30 days begins 12/26 for purchases since 11/1. May deny refund for opened items or those without a receipt. REDcard holders get 30 extra return days.
    Toys"R"Us Secret policy: most items bought from September 1 onward can be returned until January 23, except November 1 onward for video game hardware, cameras, music players, etc. Netbooks, eReaders, etc. bought November 1 onward can be returned until January 9.
    Walmart stores 90 days most items. For purchases made from November 1 on, 15 days (PCs, cameras, GPS, more), 30 days (garden, compressors, more) but count days starting December 26.

    Return policy law varies state to state. Generally, a store can set up any return policy it wants, whether it is "all sales final", "merchandise credit only", or "all returns in 30 days." Many states require the policy to be clearly disclosed to the buyer prior to purchase, usually by means of a conspicuous sign. Some states do not consider a disclosure that only appears on the sales receipt to meet this requirement. It is not unreasonable, however, to require customers to provide a sales slip or gift receipt to establish where and when the item was purchased, and at what price.


  • Don’t fight the crowds on the return lines the day after Christmas; grab some of the advertised bargains instead. Go back a day or two later. To improve your chances of getting full credit, provide a sales slip or gift receipt, return the item in new condition, unopened, and with all packaging material. Returns without a receipt are subject to the posted return policy, which might result in your receiving only a merchandise credit for the lowest price the item has sold for recently, or possibly no refund or exchange at all.
  • If the item to be returned is defective, some states such as Massachusetts, require the store to give the consumer his/her choice of one of the three "R's": repair, replacement or refund, irrespective of the store's posted return policy.
  • Consumers who have a problem returning a gift, should first contact the store manager or customer service department of the retailer. If a satisfactory resolution is not obtained, then a complaint can be filed with the state Attorney General's office or local consumer agency.

  • Return Policy Survey 2015: retailers' return policies compared

    Return to Consumer World.


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