There’s a good reason UPS dubbed Jan. 2 as the unofficial “National Returns Day.” Today, Americans are expected to return 1.9 million packages through the UPS network alone ― a 26% increase from last year’s peak returns day.
Perhaps you’re experiencing post-holiday buyer’s remorse, or you ended up with a few gifts that just aren’t for you. Either way, there’s a good chance you need to make at least one return. But not all return policies are created equal. Here are some of the best and worst store return policies, according to retail experts, so you know what you’re in for before hitting the returns line.
Companies With Great Return Policies
There are many retailers with generous return windows and lenient receipt requirements. These five stores, however, have become known for their exceptional return policies.
This wholesale retailer has an excellent return policy, according to Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst with DealNews. “For most items, you can return anything at any time, no matter how long it’s been since you purchased it. And being able to return items bought online to your nearest store (even if it’s not carried there) makes the process easier as well,” she said.
Though it’s a good idea to hang onto your receipt, some stores are able to look up your purchases based on your membership number only.
The big exception to keep in mind is electronics, which have a limited return window of 90 days. “Still, that’s pretty generous and should be more than enough time to test items before needing to return them, if that’s what it comes to,” Ramhold said.
L.L. Bean was long been known for its rather astonishing return policy, which offered a lifetime guarantee on products and allowed customers to return purchases at any point, no matter the condition.
“Unfortunately, that policy has changed now, but the store still has a great policy,” Ramhold said. Customers have up to one year to return purchases for a full refund. (This new policy applies to anything purchased after February 18, 2018.) However, the company will still accept returns after the one year cutoff for items that are defective due to the materials or craftsmanship. Proof of purchase is required for returns.
Nordstrom’s return policy stands out because it considers every return on a case-by-case basis, with the ultimate objective of making customers happy. That means there’s no return window to adhere to, or limitations based on the item purchased. If you don’t have a receipt or record of sale, Nordstrom will offer a return in the form of a gift card valued at the current sale price, provided you provide identification. Keep in mind that you can’t return Nordstrom merchandise to Nordstrom Rack locations.
Kohl’s makes returns easy whether or not you have a receipt, according to Lisa Sims, an e-commerce expert and author of several books including “Keep That Receipt.” If you don’t have a receipt, your purchase can be found using the debit or credit card that was used for the transaction. If your payment method cannot be found when you’re returning without a receipt, you’ll get a Kohl’s gift card. There’s also no specific time period for returns, though the refund amount can be reduced depending on the return date, whether Kohl’s Cash was used, and whether the items were seasonal.
“Walmart is another retailer with a good return policy,” Sims said. Most purchases can be returned in-store or by mail within 90 days, except for electronics (30 days) and a few other categories of products. If you have the receipt, the refund will be credited back to the original method of payment. But if you don’t have a receipt, you may still get refunded in the form of a Walmart gift card. “The drawback is that the return line after Christmas is extremely long,” Sims said. Fortunately, in this post-holiday period, Walmart has extended the window for returning items that usually must be taken back within 14 or 30 days.
Watch Out For These Stores’ Tricky Return Policies
On the other hand, some popular retailers have surprisingly restrictive return policies. Below are a few examples of tricky policies to keep in mind.
If you need to return an item to Best Buy, you’d better do it quickly. Unless you’re a My Best Buy Elite or Elite Plus member, you usually have, at most, 15 days to return items. “Additionally, unless the purchase and return are from the same state in select cases, or it’s unopened, you’ll also have to pay either a $45 restocking fee or 15% of the item purchase price,” Ramhold said.
Fortunately, Best Buy has extended its holiday return window: Most purchases made in November and December can be returned through Jan. 14, 2020, though this excludes cell phones, tablets, wearables, AppleCare monthly plans and major appliances.
This online-only fast fashion retailer may be popular among 20-somethings with an eye for trends, but the return policy is anything but attractive. Except in limited cases, returns can only be refunded for store credit, and the return shipping costs are your responsibility. Returned items need to be in pristine condition with the original tags attached. Bodysuits, swimwear, undergarments, beauty products, cosmetics and accessories aren’t eligible for returns, nor are any items with prices that end in $.00, .96, .97 or .98, as these are considered final sale.
Usually, customers have 30 days to make returns, though the company has extended the return window for purchases made between Nov. 28 and Dec. 25 through Jan. 11th, or within 45 days of the ship date, whichever comes later.
Considering that it’s one of the few physical bookstore chains left, you’d think Barnes & Noble might offer a more generous return policy to keep shoppers happy. Customers have 30 days to make returns. If you paid with PayPal, your refund has to be in the form of a Barnes & Noble Gift Card or in-store credit. Items also have to be in their perfect, original condition and shrink-wrapped products can’t be opened. Online orders must be returned with the original packing slip and shipping fees aren’t included in the refund.
If you received a gift from Barnes & Noble that included a gift receipt, you have 60 days to make a return for store credit.
Though Kmart is known for its low prices, the return process can be more hassle than it’s worth. Non-members have just 30 days to return most items, but only with a receipt. Certain items such as movies, software and video games can’t be returned if they’re opened, unless they’re defective, in which case you can exchange for the exact replacement. Upholstered furniture and mattresses have a seven-day return window.
But there is good news for holiday shoppers: For items purchased between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 that usually have a 30-day return window, Kmart is extending the return period through Jan. 31.
Finally, Apple may be known for its sleek, innovative products, but its return policy isn’t exactly impressive. Customers only have 14 days to return products, as long as all the accessories, packaging, documentation and receipt are included. “Even if it’s a gift, you must have a gift receipt in order to return something,” Ramhold said. “Additionally, for any cash, cash equivalent, or check transaction over $750, you’ll have to wait 10 business days to have a refund check mailed to you.” Returns using a gift receipt are refunded in the form of an Apple gift card.
How To Make The Returns Process Easier
No matter how forgiving you think a store’s return policy may be, there are a few tips you should keep in mind to streamline the return process and ensure you get back all of your money.
Understand the return policy specifics. Whether you’re the gift buyer or recipient, it’s a good idea to take the time to read the seller’s return policy. You’ll want to find out if your item can be returned or exchanged, as well as how long of a window you’re dealing with. Keep in mind that the holiday season can affect return policies. “To reduce holiday shopping stress, many retailers have extended returns windows or lenient policies,” said Marcos Sainz, chief technology officer for Returnly.
Keep a paper trail. Ramhold recommends holding onto all relevant documentation related to a purchase, even if you don’t think you’ll need it. That includes the receipt, invoice, email or anything else involved in the purchase. “The more you can show when trying to make a return, the easier you’ll make it on the clerk and the more likely they’ll be to help you out with it,” Ramhold said.
Check online before running to the store. You may not have to battle the post-Christmas crowds to return a purchase, even if you originally made it in person. Many retailers are working to improve the customer experience by offering easy online returns. Some will even issue an instant online credit before receiving the return, according to Sainz.
Return items as soon as possible. The last thing you probably want to do after surviving the holiday shopping rush is head back to the mall and deal with returns. However, even with extended policies, it’s best to take care of returns sooner rather than later. “The longer you wait, the more you risk the window closing and then you’ll be stuck with something you don’t want or can’t use,” Ramhold said.
Be kind. “Remember, the holiday season and returns rush can be stressful for everyone,” Sainz said. Whether you’re dealing with a customer service rep at the return counter, over the phone or via online chat, the person helping you has probably helped countless customers before you. Your patience may be running thin, but so is theirs. “Being polite, even when you’re frustrated, can go a long way when judgment calls are required,” Sainz advised.