(BOSTON - December 18, 2017) -- Based on its annual return policy survey, ConsumerWorld.org reports that three prominent retailers are shortening return windows or adding restocking fees, while most stores’ return policies have remained about the same as last year.
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 shorter return periods than say, clothing. Opened goods or those missing original packaging may be subject to limited return rights or restocking fees. Some stores track shoppers' return frequency in a database. Restrictions like these aim to reduce return fraud which is predicted to account for 11-percent of all returns this year, according to the National Retail Federation. And one-in-six no receipt returns may be fraudulent.
The complexity of stores’ return policies is underscored by their sheer length. The policies of the dozen stores in the accompanying chart span some 67 pages, totaling over 30,000 words.
Noteworthy policies, policy changes, or unusual return policies for 2017 include:
Macy's shortened its standard returns window for the second year in a row. It has gone from unlimited to 365 days to 180 days for most items. Some items subject to 3, 14, 30, 45, 60, 90, 100, or 120-day return limits. Macy’s excludes certain categories of items from both its 180-day and extended holiday return policies such as Apple phones, very high end designer brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Burberry, and “Last Act” items.
Best Buy has added a 15-percent restocking fee for built-in appliances, drones, DSLR cameras and lenses, and a few other items.
Toys"R"Us has finally posted its previously “secret” holiday return policy on its website, but it is still not posted in stores. Its regular return policy for computer hardware has been reduced from 30 to 15 days. However, Just after our survey was published and an inquiry was made of the company by a Today Show representative, Toys"R"Us said that its website was in error and that its website was corrected to indicate that the computer hardware return policy is 30 days.
Fewer online sellers offer free return shipping, but Shoprunner and PayPal still do.
At Amazon, groceries, wine, and plants are not returnable but may be refundable.
Target REDcard holders get 30 extra return days. Store brands have a one-year return period. Items that are opened/damaged/receipt-less may be denied a refund or exchange. Best Buy adds 15 to 30 extra days for elite members too.
Many retailers now require all tags to remain on special occasion dresses and gowns 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."
Summarized below are some chains with generous regular or holiday return deadlines for purchases made in their brick and mortar locations, unless otherwise stated:
|Amazon.com ||January 31 for most items shipped 11/01 thru 12/31. |
|Best Buy ||January 14 for most purchases Oct. 29 - Dec. 31. Elite members may get more time. |
|Costco ||No deadline, but 90 days for: TVs, computers, cameras, MP3 players, cellphones, projectors, and major appliances. |
|Kohl's ||No deadline, but premium electronics bought Nov. 1 - Dec. 25 returnable until January 31. |
|Macy's stores ||180 days for most returns. Some items have 3-14-30-45-60-90-100-120-day deadlines. Holiday return deadline is January 31 for most items purchased since November 1. Some categories have separate rules. |
|Marshalls ||January 23 for purchases Oct. 15 - Dec. 24. This retailer posts clear in-store signs about their extended holiday return policy every year. |
|Overstock.com ||January 31 for most items purchased Nov. 1 or later. Fees apply if opened, used, or late. |
|Sears ||January 31 deadline for most 30 day items except major appliances purchased Nov. 1 on; Report certain damaged goods within 72 hours or no refund; 15% restocking fee on electronics missing parts; furniture, etc. |
|Staples ||No deadline for office supplies. January 15 for electronics & furniture bought since Nov. 19.|
|TJ Maxx ||January 23 for purchases Oct. 15 - Dec. 24. This retailer posts clear in-store signs about their extended holiday return policy every year. |
|Target ||90 days most items, except 30 days for electronics and entertainment items, 14 days for drones, but days begin 12/26 for purchases since 11/1. Stores brands - one year. May deny refund for opened/damaged/unreceipted items. REDcard holders get 30 extra days. |
|Toys"R"Us ||Most items bought from September 1 onward can be returned until January 28, but only November 1 onward for video game hardware, cameras, music players, netbooks, eReaders, etc. |
|Walmart stores ||90 days most items. For purchases made from November 1 on, 15 days (PCs, cameras, GPS, more), 30 days (mowers, a/c, 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.
TIPS FOR HASSLE-FREE RETURNS
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.