Stores Are Getting Tougher on Return Policies As Holiday Shopping Ramps Up

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Sure, Christmas gifts are all about the notion that it’s “the thought that counts.” But such notions also come with the guarantee you can return something if you really don’t like it.

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In fact, according to a RetailMeNot survey, 38% of Americans returned a Christmas gift in late December last year through early January 2022. That number jives with a report by Fortune in 2019 that stated, in general, 34% of recipients return or exchange their gifts every holiday season.

But retailers are getting hip to these statistics and are starting to become stricter on their return policies this year as a way to reduce profit loss after enjoying increases in sales over the holidays.

Businesses Clamp Down on Christmas Returns

According to CNBC, 60% of stores are introducing more rigid policies that may include shorter windows to make the return, only offering in-store credit or even charging a restocking fee.

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CNBC indicated the National Retail Federation has already predicted that roughly 18% of gifts sold during the holidays this year (worth a staggering $158 billion) will be returned after Christmas, and that has major retailers on edge.

“In 2022, fewer businesses are in a position to be able to afford such a hefty price tag,” CNBC suggested, noting that increased costs for labor and shipping prices are eating at retailers’ bottom lines, forcing them to act via new cost-saving measures.

As such, brands like Gap, REI and Anthropologie are going to be changing their policies in order to dissuade the practice. “These adjustments in return policies are not there to cover costs,” Spencer Kieboom, founder and CEO of Pollen Returns, a return-management company, told CNBC. “They’re really there to deter the consumer from returning.”

GOBankingRates has previously reported on return policies at major chains like Walmart, but how do other stores stack up? Released in November, Consumer Reports provided a guide outlining the stores with the best and worst return policies.

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Here’s where some of the major retailers rank on the latest Consumer Reports list:

Stores With the Best Return Policies

Amazon: In general, 30 days for unopened items, and you can return goods at one of their many in-store kiosks at Whole Foods, UPS and Walmart. Plus, they’re extending the return window to Jan. 31 for all holiday purchases made from Oct. 11 through Dec. 25.

Bed Bath & Beyond: Up to 90 days for most items (or 30 days for “smart home and seasonal” products), and a receipt is not needed.

Costco: No time limit for most items except for electronics, which have a 90-day policy and no receipt is needed.

Kohl’s: A generous 180 days for most items, though “premium electronics” bought as holiday gifts must be returned by Jan. 31.

Macy’s: Up to 90 days to make a return, and it’s free to ship back any items ordered online (though original shipping fees will not be refunded). However, holiday purchases made after Oct. 3 must be returned by Jan. 31.

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Nordstrom: One of the most relaxed return policies of any store. There’s no real window and most items can be returned at any time on a “case by case basis,” no original tags or receipts needed.

Target: In general, 90 days (but 30 days for electronics and 15 days for Apple items) — Target RedCard holders get an extra 30 days.

Stores With the Worst Return Policies

Apple: Just 14 days are allowed for a return after purchase — and only if you bought directly from an Apple store or the brand’s official website. Holiday return windows are a bit better, as all items secured between Nov. 4 through Dec. 25 are allowed to be returned by Jan. 8.

Barnes & Noble: Only 30 days are allowed, but you must have a receipt from the original purchase (or 60 days if you have a gift receipt). If you’re mailing back an item, you’ll also pay for shipping. Holiday returns are a bit more lax — anything purchased between Nov. 1 through Dec. 31 can be returned by Jan. 31.

Best Buy: Most items get a 15-day window for returns, though smartphones and tablets are 14 days and the store mandates a receipt (and a 15% restocking fee on certain goods). For the holidays, items bought between Oct. 24 and Dec. 31 are eligible for return by Jan. 14. If you are a My Best Buy Elite member you get 30 days, while Elite Plus members get 45 days.

Wayfair: In most cases, 30 days, but the item must be unopened (unless it’s found to be defective). For the holidays, Jan. 31 is the hard cut off for returns.

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As always, it’s best to keep receipts, gift receipts, and original boxes and packaging whenever possible. Also, don’t hestitate to make a return — with increasing pressure for retailers to deny late or otherwise imperfect returns, you’d be well advised to be prompt and professional in making your way to the customer service counter.

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