The Best Store Return Policy and Refund Policies – Extended Holiday Returns
Last Updated: 11/7/2019
Stores Hate Returns
Let's face it, any store wants you to keep what you buy and never return it. Returns are costly to process, restock, and ship. Consumers need the option of returning an item, or else they would purchase far less products.
- Return fraud and abuse costs US Retailers $18+ Billion annually
US Consumers return about 8% of everything bought in 2015, or approximately $260 billion worth of merchandise. Online customers, especially in clothes, return up to 33% of items ordered.
- Clothes return rate - 10.5%
- Shoes return rate - 9.5%
The best Return Policy: REI HAD Unlimited returns
REI has a well established and lenient return policy - in general, they will take back anything within a year, as long as it is not damaged in any way.
In the past, REI had an even more generous return policy - in a nutshell, they would accept any return, regardless of use or condition. Word of this policy spread, and they earned the nickname "Return Every Item."
Two years ago, the senior management at REI worried it was earning a reputation as a retail sucker. Some of their customers began to brag about their returns on social media, and some of the posts went viral - and it began to eat into REI's profits.
The senior management at REI faced a tough decision: accept the decreased profits or change their return policy. In the end, they made the decision to update their return policy. From then on, customers only had one year to return their purchases.
Best Return Policy Today
Now the best return policy is Costco, with only limited time returns on electronics.
On the other end of the spectrum, some retailers are now tracking people who may be abusing their return system. And they are teaming up - if you return too much at one store, another may refuse to honor your returns.
So - how do other retailers stack up in their return policies? For this article, we've researched and spoken to a lot of retailers and documented their return policies. As we approach the holiday buying season, consumers will be purchasing a lot of speculative gifts - in other words, gifts one hopes will be appreciated. Let's face it, though - we all miss the mark occasionally, so make certain you are buying from a store with a great refund and exchange policy.
Get Banned for Returning TOO much
Yes, a store can ban you for returning too many items! Think twice about abusing the system.
- Amazon - Will ban you for making too many returns. Consistently returning a large number of orders. One person returned 43 items out of 550 over 5 years and got banned.
- Best Buy - They use return service The Retail Equation. You can get barred from returning items for doing it too often or possibly at other stores.
- Costco - Is less aggressive then Amazon, but it has banned people how return too much or items that are years old.
- Home Depot - May limit or decline a return based on their refund verification system.
- Kohls - Please be advised that they may limit or decline a return based on their refund verification system.
- Nordstrom - Will ban users for excessive returns. Be careful aggressively when ordering clothes and shoes online in different sizes.
- Walmart will ban customers for a year for returning 3 items in a short period without receipt.
Criteria Used in Banning Customers
- Too many returns in a short timeframe
- Returning items without a receipt
- Returning items that are often stolen
- Returning items after a certain period of time
- Returning items at store closing time
- Returning high-value items
- Returning a large percentage of your total purchases
Final Sale - No Returns
The other end of the return spectrum is the Final Sale, No Returns. This is for items that are on clearance and need to be sold permanently. Sometimes you can complain to customer service and get a return exception, especially if you vent on social media!
Many items fitting in this category are in Clearance sections or clearly marked as such, often with prices ending in certain digits.
If you need to get rid of a Final Sale items, try eBay, Craigslist, Poshmark, etc.
- Boxes - Do not accept shipments that have damaged boxes or water stains
- Receipts - We suggest you note the return policy on the receipt for each of your purchases
- Boxes - Hang onto your boxes and packaging until you are sure the product will not be returned
- Extras - Extra gifts included in purchases must also be returned
Return Policies of Major Stores
Listed below are the posted return policies of major US stores. Keep in mind that some stores have different policies for in store vs online purchases. Gap, Old Navy, Piperlime, Athleta, and Banana Republic sell some items that are marked "mail only", which can only be returned in store. They pay for return shipping though. Check your stores website first.
Computers and Electronics
Apple – 14 calendar days from date of purchase, no restocking charge. Must return to a local store. Excludes opened software, electronic software downloads, software updates, Gift Card, Developer products, Apple Print Products. Wireless carriers have their own service cancellation policies.
Holiday - Items purchased at the Apple Online Store that are received between November 14, 2019 and December 25, 2019, may be returned through January 8, 2020.
Best Buy – 15 days from date of purchase, no restocking charge. 14 days for cell phones. They do utilize a 3rd party return tracking service, (see below) so your return can be denied if you have returned too many items. Customers with Elite status get 30 days for returns on most products, Elite Plus gets 45 day returns on most. You have to pay shipping when returning items, better yet, return them to a local store.
Holiday - Last day to return or exchange qualified items purchased November 1, 2019 - December 31, 2019 is 14th of January, 2020. My Best Buy Elite members have the greater of January 14, 2020, or 30 days from the date the purchaser received the product, to return or exchange the product. My Best Buy Elite Plus members have the greater of January 14, 2020, or 45 days from the date the purchaser received the product, to return or exchange the product. Excludes cell phones, devices that can be activated and AppleCare monthly plans.
Items purchased with a third-party contract (like Mobile Phone carrier contracts and DirecTV) and Geek Squad Protection service plans cannot be returned. A 15 percent restocking fee applies to opened notebook computers, projectors, camcorders, digital cameras, radar detectors, GPS navigation and in-car video systems. A 25 percent restocking fee applies on special order products, like appliances.
eBay – Depends on the individual seller's policy. Look for return terms in the auction’s description.
Frys - Varies depending on product category, but most items are covered for 30 days. No restocking charge.
Holiday - Purchases made between 11/22/2019 and 12/24/2019 may be returned or exchanged until 1/12/2020.
Amazon - 30 days from purchase date, but you must pay for return shipping unless your return is the result of Amazon's error. TVs can be returned if not opened unless they are large TVs sold with Free Enhanced Delivery
Holiday - Items shipped by Amazon.com between November 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019, may be returned until January 31, 2020, for a full refund, subject to other return guidelines.
Amazon does not allow return of
- Items classified as hazardous materials or use flammable liquids or gases (contact the manufacturer directly for service, warranty, return, and refund information)
- Any product missing the serial number or UPC
- Downloadable software products
- Online subscriptions after they have been accessed
- Gift cards (except as required by law)
- Pay As You Go (or prepaid) phone cards (contact a local authorized dealer or the carrier directly)
- Prepaid game cards (World of Warcraft, Xbox 360 Live, Wii Points, etc.)
- Some jewelry orders
- Some health and personal care items
- Grocery products
- Prime Pantry products
- Fresh flowers and live indoor plants
- Open software
- Items with special shipping restrictions imposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (as indicated on the product detail page)
- Live insects
3rd party sellers have their own return policy. Check them before buying.
B&H Photo – Most products - 30 days from purchase date. Claims for missing items or items damaged in transit must be received within two business days of receipt of merchandise. Returned items must be in new condition in original box with intact UPC. B&H reserves the right to charge 15% restocking.
Final sale, non returnable: Unwrapped TVs, combos and monitors 37" and larger, opened computers and software, software downloads, unwrapped consumables, build to order computers, special orders, submerged underwater equipment, unwrapped educational tapes and books..
Holiday - Purchases made between November 1, 2019 and January 1, 2020 may be returned or exchanged through February 1, 2020 (or 30 days from date of purchase, whichever is longer)
Costco – Offers unlimited full refund guarantee for every product they sell.
- Electronics: Costco will accept returns within 90 days (from the date the member received the merchandise) for Televisions, Tuner-Free Displays, Projectors, Major Appliances (refrigerators above 10 cu. ft., freezers, ranges, cooktops, over-the-range microwaves, dishwashers, washers and dryers), Computers, Touchscreen Tablets, Smart Watches, Cameras, Aerial Cameras (drones), Camcorders, MP3 players and Cellular Phones (return details will vary by carrier service contract).
- Diamonds: 1.00ct or larger: Members returning a diamond over 1.00ct must also present all original paperwork (IGI and/or GIA certificates) at which time they will receive a Jewelry Credit Memo. Within 48 hours, our Costco Graduate Gemologist will inspect for authenticity.
- Special Order Kiosk and Custom Installed Programs: Custom product(s) manufactured to our member’s personal and unique specifications cannot be returned or refunded, except for warranty repair/replacement due to failure to meet specifications.
No special holiday policy.
Dell - offers a 21 day return policy for all products unless damaged. 30-Day Return Period for Certain Products and Accessories. Opened software is not returnable.Unless the product is defective or the return is a direct result of a Dell error, Dell may charge a restocking fee of up to 15% of the purchase price paid, plus any applicable sales tax.
Extended holiday returns on purchases made 11/1/19 through 12/25/2019 is 1/15/2020 or 30-days from invoice date, whichever is later.
HP - offers a 21 day return policy for all products unless damaged.
Holiday - For products purchased between November 1, 2019 and December 25, 2019, these can be returned through January 15, 2020. Non-returnable items remain non-returnable. A restocking fee of up to 15% may apply.
Lenovo - offers a full refund less a 15% restocking charge within 30 days. Lenovo Outlet gives a shorter 14 days with the same restocking.
For orders placed between November 15th to December 15th 2019, customers may return products and accessories purchased from Lenovo.com in quantities of five (5) units or less for a refund of the price paid through January 15, 2020.
Newegg – offers a full refund less a 15% restocking charge within 30 days. Defective items, Unopened items and the wrong item are not subject to restocking fee.
Holiday - For purchases placed between November 1, 2019 and December 24, 2019 you will have until January 31, 2020 to return your product.
Sam’s Club - offers a no time-limit full refund guarantee, but limits technology items to 90 days. They have no special holiday return policy. You can even get your membership fee refunded, if you are not satisfied.
Sears - has a very complex return policy and every product category has different time requirements. All products must be returned in original packaging and you must provide your receipt.
Holiday - Items purchased 11/1/19 – 12/24/19 which typically have 30-day return periods can be returned through 1/31/20.
Note: Items sold by third party sellers, floor care equipment, vacuums, major home appliances, sewing machines, water treatment, plumbing, heating equipment, mattresses and items with return policy period less than 30 days are not covered by the extended Holiday Return Policy. Terms of standard policy (including, but not limited to, non-returnable items, restocking fee, original packaging, etc.) apply.
Staples - Staples is unique in that they sometimes accept returns from their competitors, as long as the item is in it's original packaging. It is up to the manager to approve it. Most of their products carry a 30 day refund guarantee, but electronics is limited to 14 days. Your purchase must be returned in salable condition with the original packaging, including Universal Product Code (UPC), manuals, parts and your receipt or packing slip.
Holiday - Any electronic or furniture products, which usually fall within the 14-day return policy, purchased between November 18, 2019 and December 24, 2019 may be returned until January 12, 2020 or as regular policy allows, whichever is later. This applies to all electronic and furniture products within Staples’ regularly posted 14-day return policies. All electronic and furniture purchases made on or after December 25, 2019 will observe our existing return policies. Returns made using a gift receipt must follow our return policy and are limited to an in-store credit only. The receipt barcode must be intact and readable to process a return.
No receipt returns: If you no longer have your receipt and we cannot locate your transaction information, your return is eligible only for an in-store credit for the lowest selling price within the previous 30 days in our U.S. stores. A valid government identification is required for all returns made without a receipt.
Target – Target offers a 30 day full refund on computers (laptops, eReaders, tablets), cameras, game consoles, GPS, etc). All other items are generally covered by a 90 day full refund guarantee. Cell phones have 14 days. Red Card holders get an additional 30 days on most purchases.
- All electronics and entertainment items must be returned within 30 days for a refund or exchange. For these items purchased between 11/1/2019 – 12/25/2019, the 30-day refund period will start on 12/26/2019
Office Depot - OfficeMax - Office depot offers an unlimited full refund guarantee on branded products, but only a 14 day refund guarantee on computers and electronics.
Holiday - Any item purchased between October 1st and December 24th can be returned until January 14th, 2020, or as the policy allows.
Walmart - Like Sears, Walmart has a different refund guarantee based on product category. Most items, however, can be returned within 90 days of purchase date. Consumer electronics and air beds have 15 days. 30 days is given to air conditioners, power washers, and generators.
Holiday Returns - Items purchased between October 24, 2019 - December 25, 2019 can be returned on:
- January 10, 2020 for items with a 15 day return policy
- January 25, 2020 for items with a 30 day return policy
- There is no change to the 90 day return policy window
Nordstrom – Nordstroms offers a no time-limit refund or exchange. Free shipping and returns. They will ban you for returning too much.
Nordstrom Rack is limited to 30 days from date of purchase. No special holiday timeline policy.
Macy's – Don't love it? You've got a whole year to bring it back. We’ll gladly accept returns or exchanges as long as your item is in saleable condition and within one year of purchase.
Products must be returned in original packaging and you must have your original receipt. Merchandise Return Label (with a barcode) to each item.
Furniture requires returns be started within 3 days, plus there is a 15% restocking fee. 60 day Comfort Trial. Mattress returns incur a $75 pickup fee plus 15% usage fee. No special holiday policy.
If there is no receipt and they are unable to determine the actual price paid, they will refund the lowest selling price on that item within the last 180 days. Other departments have their own policy.
Kohls - Our Return Policy allows for purchased items to be returned within 180 days of purchase and extends to all Kohl's merchandise with the exception of premium electronics which must be returned within 30 days from the date of purchase with original packaging and a valid receipt or account look-up.
Premium electronics purchased from November 1 - December 25 may be returned by January 31 with original packaging and a valid receipt or account look-up.
Please be advised that Kohls may limit or decline a return based on our refund verification system.
Lands' End - Unconditional Guaranteed Period, anytime, any reason, even personalized items. No special holiday policy.
#1 in returns: LL Bean – LL Bean was a famous refund guarantee - there is no time limit, and they accept damaged merchandise as well. Return those boots from the 90's and get a new pair. Your karma might get affected. No special holiday policy.
But then people abused this and it changed in 2019 to just 1 year. After one year, we will consider any items for return that are defective due to materials or craftsmanship.
REI did the same years ago.
QVC – QVC allows you to send back the merchandise within 30 days of the date you received the package for an exchange or a refund of the purchase price, minus the shipping and handling and Q Return Label fees. If an item is returned as defective or because QVC was in error, QVC will refund the S&H paid and not deduct for the Q Return Label.
Ross - Ross offers a full 30 day refund guarantee on merchandise that has not been used, worn, or altered. You must provide the original receipt. Merchandise returns with a receipt older than 30 days will be exchanged or credited with store credit. No special holiday policy.
TJMaxx - TJMaxx offers a 30 day refund guarantee on most items, but is unique in that it prints the specific return policy on your receipt for the item you purchased.
Holiday: Purchases made between October 16th - December 24th may be returned through January 23rd, 2020.
Zappos - Zappos offers a full year to return your purchases. The items must be in original unopened packaging, and not used or worn. They offer free return shipping - simply log into your account and print out a return shipping label. No special holiday policy.
If someone bought you a gift on Zapposc.om and you want to return it, just enter the person's email address and/or phone number. Zappos will exchange out your gift for something else on the site.
Amazon - Amazon.com and most third-party sellers on Amazon.com offer returns for items within 30 days of receipt of shipment. Most items sold on Amazon.com follow our general returns policies, but some products have different policies or requirements associated with them.
Holiday - Items shipped by Amazon.com between November 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019, may be returned until January 31, 2020, for a full refund. Items shipped from sellers other than Amazon.com are subject to this same holiday return policy unless otherwise stated in the seller's individual Return Policy.
Bed Bath Beyond – Bed, Bath, and Beyond features a no time limit full refund, with receipt or credit card used required. They will adjust prices on items any time and will apply a coupon post sale. Starting April 2015, if you have no receipt, you will face a 20% restocking fee. Same policy at sister stores: Buy Buy Baby and Harmon Face Values. No special holiday policy.
Costco – Most items purchased from Costco can be returned at any time as long as you have a current membership. For instance, if you buy a mattress and find it uncomfortable after a year of use, you can return it - no questions asked. No special holiday policy. You can even get your membership fee refunded, if you are not satisfied.
Home Depot – Home Depot accepts all returns within 90 days of the date of purchase. If you have misplaced your receipt, they can look up your purchase with your credit card number. No special holiday policy.
Lowes - Similar to Home Depot, Lowes accepts returns within 30 days of the date of purchase. If you don't your receipt, they can also look up your purchase with your credit card number. Winter Holiday Items be returned on or before December 26 of the same holiday season.
Macy’s - Macy's offers a full refund at within 90 days after purchase, but has a 15% restocking fee on furniture and mattress returns. Last Act items must be returned within 30 days. Other departments may have their own policy.
- Jewelry, watches, small electrics, social dresses, and Backstage merchandise purchased between November 1, 2019 - January 31, 2020 can be returned until January 31, 2020.
- Tech accessories and Apple products purchased between December 1, 2019 - January 8, 2020 can be returned until January 8, 2020.
Sam’s Club - Sam's Club offers a full refund on all products purchased in store or online with no time limit. No special holiday policy.
Sears - has a very complex return policy and every product category has different time requirements. All products must be returned in original packaging and you must provide your receipt. For holiday check above.
Target – Target offers a 90 day full refund guarantee. The product must be in original packaging and never been used or worn. If you have lost your receipt, they can look up your purchase by credit card number. See above for details.
Walgreens - Walgreens purchases can be returned to any store within 30 days of purchase for a full refund or exchange. You must have the original receipt. Cosmetic returns are up to the store manager. For holiday check above.
Walmart - Walmart features a convenient 90 day no-receipt policy, and you have the option of a cash refund, gift card, or an exchange. See above for Holiday.
Kroger - Kroger has a very generous return policy and accepts returns for almost any reason. Refunds are issued as a cash or credit card refund, exchange, or gift card. No holiday return policy.
McDonalds - McDonalds will issue a refund or exchange if the food provided is different from what was ordered, or spoiled or bad. No holiday return policy.
Safeway - Safeway will only accept returns if there is something materially wrong with the merchandise. Returns must be made at the same store at where the purchase was made, and must be accompanied with the original receipt. No holiday return policy.
Starbucks - Starbucks offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee on all food and drink products. For Starbuck's gift and consumer products, they offer a 60 day guarantee. Exchanges are processed as a refund of original purchase price, and you must also place a new order for a replacement product. No holiday return policy.
Subway - Subway will allow a refund if you cancel within three minutes of placing your order. They do not offer refunds on orders once they are in process, and you cannot return items based on taste preferences. No holiday return policy.
Trader Joe's – Trader Joe's has a very liberal return policy: If you are unhappy with a product for any reason, simply return it for a full, no-questions-asked refund. No holiday return policy.
Whole Foods – Whole Foods offers a complete 100% satisfaction full refund policy - if you are dissatisfied with a product for any reason, they will issue a full refund. No holiday return policy.
Dick’s Sporting Goods - Dick's offers a 60 day refund policy on most products. Returned items must be in original packaging and never been used or work. No holiday return policy.
The North Face – The North Face accepts all returns that were purchased within the last year. Receipts are required, and custom products are not eligible for returns, changes, or alterations. No holiday return policy.
AT&T - AT&T offers a 14 day full refund on their smart phones, and charges $35 for restocking. No holiday return policy.
Apple - Apple features a 14 day return policy on their iPhones. Only iPhones purchased directly from Apple can be returned.
Apple products purchased through other retailers must be returned in accordance with their respective returns and refunds policy.
Holiday - Items purchased on Apple's Online Store between November 10, 2019 and December 25, 2019, can be returned through January 8th, 2020.
Sprint - Sprint has a similar return policy to Apple - they offer a full money back guarantee for 14 days from the date the device was purchased. $35 restocking fee. No holiday return policy.
T-Mobile - T-Mobile also offers a 14-day money back guarantee, but charges a hefty $50-$75 restocking fee (depending on device). No holiday return policy.
Verizon - Verizon offers a 14-day money back guarantee, but also asks for a $35-$75 restocking fee. You may terminate service for any reason within 14 days of activation. No holiday return policy.
Shoprunner get you free 2 day shipping from a variety of store. Also included is free return shipping. This normally costs $79 a year with a free 30 day trial. It is free for American Express card holders.
Found a cheaper price? The Department of Transportation requires airlines to allow customers to cancel flights within 24 hours of purchase if the flight is 7 days or more away.
Retail returns are a big business - in fact, just last year consumers returned over $260 billion worth of products, just under 9% of total sales.
But there is a darker side to returns that many consumers may not be aware of. A lot of return transaction information is being outsourced to third-party companies, which in turn create "return profiles" on individual consumers. Best Buy utilizes this service. You can get a copy of your Return Report here.
Here's an example of how the return tracking works:
Bob purchases a laptop at Walmart, finds it has a defective hard drive, and later returns it for a refund. Even though Bob provided his original receipt and returned the laptop within the return time frame, Walmart policy requires Bob to provide his driver's license.
Bob's driver's license is scanned, and the information is transmitted to a third-party company, which logs Bob's personal information into a database.
The database provider stores Bob's information and analyzes his return patterns each time he returns an item to Walmart. If the database provider determines that Bob has a pattern of questionable returns, they notify Walmart. Walmart, in turn, flags Bob's account to deny future returns.
While many might view this kind of profile as intrusive, it's the only tool currently available to the retail industry to help fight organized retail crime.
The issue extends beyond small-time shoplifting; there are organized groups of criminals who are making small fortunes from return merchandise scams.
One popular scam today involves switching the UPC codes on products in the store. For example, a crook might switch the UPC code on a $1200 sink with the code from a lower value $400 sink. They buy the sink, swap the code back, and return the sink to the store without a receipt. Some stores will offer cash return, but even if they only offer in-store credit, it can be sold online.
Extended Holiday Return Times
Retailers know the holiday season can be a stressful time for many, and finding time to return mis-gifts is not always easy. Worse, many of the gifts you are returning could have been purchased several weeks earlier. Fortunately, many retailers are now relaxing their holiday return policies until January.
If you need to ship an item back, the USPS is probably the cheapest way. You can free home pickup of Priority Mail shipments.
Let's face it - with today's hectic pace of life, it's often hard to make time to return an item. Worse, finding receipts is a pain - and what about online sales? Do you have to pay for shipping back even though the store sent you the wrong product?
These days, you a wider selection of shops than ever before, both online and traditional stores. Smart shoppers know to shop not only based on style and price, but also on return policies.
As we pointed out in this article, there is a wide variance in return policies. Some merchants require the original receipt, others will only offer in-store credit. Others focus on the customer experience and have very lenient return policies.
And finally, don't forget the return policies can bite your pocketbook depending on what you purchased and how you paid for it. Some of the merchants featured in this article like to charge those pesky restocking fees.
It's enough to confuse even a veteran shopper.