Spending time with family is one thing, but spending a lifetime with that sweater your Aunt Emily gave you for Christmas is another. Before you head back to the mall with your unwanted items, there are few things to know about retailer return policies this holiday season.

The most important thing to know is that retailers are cracking down. Not only are stores struggling with lower profits, but theft is also on the rise. The National Retail Federation estimates shoplifting could cost retail stores close to $30 billion this holiday season. Fraudulent product returns pose even more problems. In a recent poll, 93% of NRF retail members said stolen merchandise has been returned to their stores.

In an effort to stem those losses, many retailers are tightening their return policies. Even some of the most traditionally lenient stores have put restrictions on certain items. WalletPop reviewed the return policies of several major retailers. Here is our list of best and worst places to return your gifts this year.



The Best Return Policies

These stores offer generous return windows, provide refunds to those armed with receipts and often have one uniform policy for all product categories.

Bed Bath & Beyond
The home goods retailer has a generous return policy year round, with no time limit for either in-store or online returns as long as you have a receipt. The one painful part: There's often a long wait for service.

Costco
The warehouse club takes everything back as long as you have a receipt. Electronics are the one exception, but even the policy for those items is among the most generous in the retail industry: Shoppers have a 90-day window to return electronics and there is no restocking fee.

Kmart
Kmart gives full refunds within 90 days with the original receipt, and online orders can be returned to stores. Exceptions include autographed collectibles, personalized items and opened software, CDs, computer games and DVDs.

Kohl's
Shoppers with original receipt get full refunds or an even exchange, and there's no time limit.

L.L. Bean
L.L. Bean has one of the most generous return policies in the land of retail. They take back products for a full refund, with or without a receipt and both in stores and online.

Macy's
No receipt? No problem Gift stickers on items make returns simple and hassle free. You've got 180 days for a full refund on most items and 30 days for jewelry except custom items. Be careful though, only standard sized rings (size 10.5 for men; size 7 for women) are returnable at all. All other sized rings are considered custom.

Nordstrom

Nordstrom has possibly the most famously liberal return policy among the major retailers. First of all, there's no time limit. And gift stickers affixed to the packaging act as receipts for the full merchandise value. Using that information, the store's computer system can easily find anything paid for by credit card with an ID.

Petsmart

The mega pet store offers full refunds for returns with receipt within 60 days of the purchase. After that, merchandise credit is issued. Petsmart even accepts returns of items purchased at other retailers, even competitors, with the original receipt for merchandise credit or exchange.

Sam's Club
Almost all items are returnable anytime with a receipt. The exceptions (besides cigarettes and alcohol): you have 90 days for most electronics and 30 days for cell phones. Without a receipt, credit is issued for the lowest price available for that product. No membership is required for returns but members bringing back fresh food items get twice the amount or a full refund and a replacement of the item with Sam's 200% guarantee.

Zappos
Return unworn or unused merchandise to Zappos up to a year after buying. Whenever you do, you will always have free shipping.

Walmart
Most items can be returned for a full refund within 90 days as long as you have a receipt. For computers, TVs, cameras, DVD and music players and electronics, Walmart is extending the return period from 15- or 30-days to a 30-day period that begins Dec. 26, regardless of when the item was purchased.

Worst Return Policies

Different rules for different product categories, too much fine print and merchandise credit instead of full refunds all help land these retailers on our "worst" list.

Amazon
Make sure to read the fine print. While most items can be returned for a full refund through January 31(an extension of Amazon's regular policy which limits returns to within 30 days of delivery) there are plenty of exceptions to the rule. Products including computers, electronics, the Kindle e-reader, jewelry and items from individual sellers may abide by a different set of return policy rules. Be especially careful when dealing with individual sellers since the return policy is often set by the seller.

Best Buy

Best Buy gets the award for most complicated return policy. Return rules vary depending on the product category, whether you are a member of a loyalty club and whether the product was bought as part of a promotion. For starters, exchanges or returns vary by product -- 14 days for computers, monitors, projectors, camcorders, digital cameras, and radar detectors; 30 days for all other products and 45 days if you belong to one of its loyalty programs. There are loads of non-returnable items including custom orders and opened entertainment software. Different restocking fees also apply, depending on the product and whether you're a Reward Zone Program Premier Silver member, for whom the fees are waived.
If a gift was sold with a promotional item or as part of a bundle, the value of the promotional item or the amount of the bundle's discount is subtracted from the refund. According to the company's Web site, "This occasionally results in additional funds being owed to Best Buy."

Home Depot

Items bought online cannot be returned to stores and buyer pays shipping. There are also restrictions and exceptions among the many product categories that make returns confusing. Custom orders can't be returned at all.

OfficeMax
The 14-day return policy on electronics and 30-day returns on ink and toner are very limiting. And the retailer's new return policy, which is set to take effect Jan. 1, 2010, after holiday shopping but before the end of the return period, will only serve to confuse both customers and employees.

JC Penney

The store accepts returns for a full refund within 90 days, as long as you have the original receipt. Not bad right? Well not so fast. Anyone with a gift receipt is out of luck. They get store credit only. Without a receipt, but bought within 90 days, the amount of the refund will be based on the lowest on-sale price within the last 30 days and will be issued as a merchandise credit.

Middle-of-the-Road Return Policies

Barnes & Noble
Takes unused merchandise back anytime but has just a 14 day return on Nook electronic readers.

Borders
Has different rules for online and in-store purchases.

The Gap

Issues store credit only without a receipt and limits returns to within 30 days (down from 90 days last year).

IKEA
Requires returned items be unused and in original packaging and made within 90 days of purchase. Receipts and a photo ID are also needed.

Lowe's
Allows for returns for refund within 90 days with receipt, but just 30 days for some equipment.

Sears
Takes merchandise back within 90 days but jewelry, electronics and mattress have just 30 day return windows.

Staples
Has no deadline for returns on most merchandise, but accepts electronics and furniture within just 14 days.

Target
Target has revised its return policy to allow for more returns without a receipt, but still caps the total to $70 worth of merchandise annually. After that, any return without a receipt gets store credit in the form of a Target gift card. After that, any return without a receipt gets store credit in the same department as the item being returned. So, apparel can only be exchanged for apparel, shoes for shoes, etc. These caveats make Target's policy limiting and confusing.

An earlier version of this story included Target on the list of best return policies. Upon clarification from the retailer that certain items can only be exchanged for items from the same department, we have removed Target from the best category.


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Brooke Adams Healy

Blue Velvet Vintage has the worst return policy I've ever encountered. Here's a cautionary tale for anyone considering buying from this website - only purchase their product if you're willing to take the risk of losing your money if the product looks different in the light of day than on their website. My daughter bought a prom dress from them. It didn't fit well and the dress looked tacky in real life. The store's policy requires that you get a return authorization within 3 days of receipt and return the item within 7 days. Even if you successfully jump through those hoops, they will only allow you to exchange for a different size or take a store credit that expires in a year. I tried to return my daughter's dress after the 3/7 day limit and asked for a store credit (accepting that they wouldn't give a refund), and they wouldn't budge. To add insult to injury, the customer service rep was incredibly rude and obnoxious, telling me basically that we were stupid not to follow their policy to the letter and that they didn't want customers like us anyway. Ah well, live and learn.

April 17 2012 at 2:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply