Gift givers have the best of intentions (usually) when picking out Christmas gifts for the holidays. No matter how much thought goes into a gift, however, sometimes shoppers miss the target — which is why something as dry as a store’s return policy can be the redeeming factor when it comes to unwanted gifts.
Jon Lal, founder of BeFrugal.com, emphasized the importance of a reliable return policy.
“Providing a lenient return policy, whether that is by offering a large time window or not requiring a receipt, communicates that stores stand behind the merchandise they sell and that they value customer satisfaction,” Lal said.
A new investigation by GoBankingRates examined the return policies of more than 20 popular retail stores in the country. Its findings uncovered that a sizable number of retailers are offering some of the best return policies of 2013, while a few stores surprisingly give their customers very little leeway when it comes to return policy convenience — whether you save money on a returned item or lose it will depend on each retailer.
Best Return Policies for Holiday Gifts
Of the stores that provide their customers with advantageous return policy terms for holiday flubs, the following ten best inspire brand loyalty. The fact that these stores make holiday gift returns that much easier to perform undoubtedly contributes to why customers keep coming back.
1. Costco Return Policy
The colossus of bulk warehouse stores is doing one better by their customers, not only with its competitive pricing but also its easy return policy.
Costco has brick-and-mortar locations and a website for purchases, but the company encourages simple returns in-store at no additional cost. While a purchase receipt is ideal for returning merchandise, returns can be conducted with just the membership number used to buy the gift at some locations.
As if that wasn’t straightforward enough, most items purchased through Costco have no return time limit. Exception for electronics are enforced, however, with a generous time frame of 90 days for items like televisions, projectors, computers, cameras, camcorders, touch screen tablets, MP3 players and cell phones.
Another perk about Costco’s return policy is that customers can obtain a full refund in the form of cash or check, which prevents gift recipients from being limited in their gift-replacement options all year long.
2. Nordstrom Return Policy
Nordstrom’s return policy has been regularly praised for being extremely nonrestrictive. This report found that the department store will accept returns for merchandise bought either in-store or online. The company doesn’t have a formal policy regarding receipts, and deals with these situations on a case-to-case basis. As long as the item doesn’t have excessive wear-and-tear and the store carries that product, a return can usually be conducted.
Customers also need not abide by a specific time limit to return gifts, but obtaining a cash refund does require a valid government-issued ID.
3. Zappos Return Policy
Worry-free return shipping is one of the reasons online shoe retailer Zappos gained a fan following. For gift recipients who’ve received the wrong size or simply don’t like the style of their gifted footwear, Zappos’ return policy honors its standard free shipping on returns, as long as the item is still in its original packaging and is unworn.
Because Zappos doesn’t have any physical stores, all returns must be handled online, but the streamlined process makes executing a return convenient. Customers have a whole year to return a product, and refunds are given in the original form of payment.
4. REI Return Policy
Despite the recreation store’s revised return policy, the existing terms still speak to REI’s original mission to preserve customer satisfaction.
Now, even under its newly changed REI return policy timeline of a one-year (30 days for REI-Outlet purchases), customers still benefit from the convenience of open returns and a 100 percent guarantee. For example, a jacket received as a gift that doesn’t quite hold up to the warmth one would expect from a parka could be returned even after the tags have been removed and the item has technically been used.
All customers need to have is a proof of purchase, which can be in the form of a store receipt, gift receipt, shipping invoice or via an REI membership number. In-store returns for items bought online are permitted at no extra fee, but mailed return costs will need to be paid by customers.
Related article: Top 10 Stores with the Best Return Policies
5. Walmart Return Policy
While this big box retailer has had its share of controversy, it is still trying to keep its customers satisfied going into the new year. Walmart’s return policy is typically 90 days, with exceptions for certain items like electronics that have shorter periods (typically 15-30 days). For the holiday season, Walmart has extended its return policy for these limited-term items; the return period will begin Dec. 26, not the original date of purchase in these instances.
Returns must be in their original packaging, but shoppers will appreciate that returns can be conducted without a receipt. Customers have the option of getting a cash refund for purchases less than $25, a gift card for purchases greater than $25 or an even exchange on all items without proofs of purchase.
6. Target Return Policy
This investigation’s findings reveal that Target’s return policy truly does its best to provide easy returns at every corner. Returns can be performed in-store or online at no additional cost to customers, as long as mail-in returns are accompanied with a prepaid label from Target’s website. Returns require either a packing slip, the credit card used to make the purchase or a printed receipt from Target’s online return center.
Return transactions without a receipt can also be accommodated with a valid government-issued photo ID. Then, returns are issued in the payment method originally used to purchase the item. When a gift receipt is used to initiate a return, customers will receive a refund in the form of a Target gift card.
Unopened items in their original condition can be returned within 90 days, with certain exceptions.
7. The Home Depot Return Policy
Goods purchased either in a Home Depot location or online can be returned at stores. The general return time period is 90 days, unless otherwise noted on the receipt or order invoice. Returns will be immediately credited, and customers without a receipt will still be able to receive store credit or a gift card priced at the lowest selling price of the returned item as long as they have a valid license.
8. Macy’s Return Policy
The findings of the report uncovered no time limit required to make returns on gift purchases, making it particularly easy for patrons to send back an unwanted item. Shoppers who have a gift receipt will be issued credit for the full purchase amount via a Macy’s gift card, while those without a receipt will still receive a gift card, but only worth the item’s lowest selling price in the last 180 days.
All returns, whether purchased online or inside a Macy’s department store, can be made in-store at no extra cost.
9. Kohl’s Return Policy
Kohl’s is known as having regularly recurring sales and discount offers that help customers save money. To top it off, Kohl’s return policy has made post-holiday returns easy. Customers have up to 12 months from the original date of purchase to start the return process. Outside of this time period, returns can still receive store credit or a corporate-issued refund check.
Those who have the original receipt have the option of receiving a full refund or even exchange, while those with a gift receipt will get a merchandise credit. Shoppers who’ve lost either of the above receipts can still return an item in-store, and store credit or a corporate refund check will be issued.
10. Apple Return Policy
Apple is giving their customers time to recover from holiday food comas with an extended holiday Apple return policy. Goods that were purchased through Apple.com between Nov. 1 and Dec. 25 may be returned through the first week of the New Year, with a deadline of Jan. 7, 2014.
While this extension doesn’t seem very long, it’s certainly helpful for gift recipients, as the standard policy only allows returns within 14 calendar days of the purchase (this time is lengthened to 30 calendar days for iPhone products).
Returns will immediately initiate the refund process, while those who are returning a gift have the option of getting an electronic Apple gift card available to use in-store or online.
Related article: How to Save Money on Christmas Gifts: 3 Tips to Save Today
Stores with the Worst Return Policies
Despite the fact that a lot of the nation’s most popular retailers are paving the way for easy returns this season, some big companies are not as quick to make the process easier for customers. The investigation uncovered three retailers whose return policy hits rock-bottom.
1. Sears Return Policy
Sears’ standard return policy is structured on a tiered system, in which certain products have a 90-day, 60-day or 30-day window to submit a return. Required in the transaction is the original packaging and original receipt or packaging slip. Each return window has a list of items eligible for return, which makes the entire process of returning merchandise very convoluted.
The department store tries to be more accommodating by extending return time frames for holiday purchases made between Nov. 17 and Dec. 24 to Jan. 24, 2014, but customers will need to take the time to mull over Sears’ return policy for a solid 10-15 minutes just to understand their item’s qualifications.
2. Best Buy Return Policy
Despite being one of the largest electronics retailers, Best Buy’s return policy is highly restrictive. The investigation revealed that the store is, in fact, offering extended holiday returns until Jan. 15, 2014 (if the item was purchased between November 3 and Dec. 31, 2013).
However, Best Buy also tiers its return periods based on membership, and membership is determined by how much a customer has spent annually. Annual spending of $1,500 earns customers the convenience of a 30-day return window, while shoppers who spend a high $3,500 a year on Best Buy merchandise are granted the luxury of a 45-day return window.
The return policy is less a benefit for the store’s returning customers, but more of a jab at customers who cannot afford to spend that much money each year on electronic goods. These customers receive a return time window of just 15 days.
3. American Apparel Return Policy
Shoppers who receive American Apparel merchandise as gifts this year are in for a surprise when they find that they can’t simply waltz into any American Apparel store location asking for a refund. In American Apparel’s return policy language, it’s explicitly stated that “all gifts must be returned by mail.”
Additionally, the report found that non-gift returns conducted are only eligible for a store credit, not cash back.
The study investigated return policies for the top U.S. retailers based on 2012 U.S. retail sales (in billions). Factors used in determining the best and worst rankings were: whether a receipt or invoice is needed at return, whether the retailer permitted in-store return processing for online purchases, available time limit for returning goods, and the refund type offered at return.
Drug stores, supermarkets and restaurants ranked as having the highest U.S. retail sales in 2012 were removed from consideration. Stores included were: Walmart, Target, Costco, The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Amazon, Best Buy, Sears, Macy’s, Apple, TJ Maxx, Kohl’s, True Value, Dollar General, Meijer, JC Penney, BJ’s Wholesale Club, Staples, REI, Gap, Nordstrom, Bed Bath & Beyond, Ace Hardware, American Apparel, Zappos, Ross, Victoria’s Secret and Family Dollar Store.