7 retailers with generous return policies
If you want to trade in Aunt Ethel's gift for something more to your tastes, you'll have an easier time if she shopped at one of these stores.
By Seth Fiegerman, MainStreet
It may be the thought that counts, but sometimes even a well-intentioned gift needs to be returned, and in that case what really counts is how much of a hassle it will be to return it. Unfortunately when it comes to return policies, many stores have lost the Christmas spirit.
"I think that stores overall have become a little bit more strict with their return policies, which is a sign of the times given our economic situation," says Jeanette Pavini, a household savings expert for Coupons.com. "If their return policies are a little more strict, they lose a little less money as a business." Post continues below.
In fact, one survey last month from the National Retail Federation found that nearly 13% of businesses planned to tighten their return policies during the holidays this year in order to stave off "excess return fraud," up from 10.9% who intended to do so in November 2010.
Not every business is a Scrooge when it comes to return policies, though. E-commerce companies in particular are well known for offering liberal policies in an attempt to persuade otherwise hesitant customers to do their shopping online, and several big-name department stores and retailers continue to be lenient with returns. However, even the best stores have restrictions that customers should know about in advance to avoid the risk of losing money later.
MainStreet partnered with Coupons.com to highlight a few retailers with the most consumer-friendly return policies either because they accept returns longer, don't require a receipt or take back opened products -- or all of the above. It's worth noting that even the best of these stores have some restrictions about when and what you can return, but in general, if you’re dealing with one of these retailers, your post-holiday return frenzy should be a little bit less stressful.
When it comes to return policies, Nordstrom is a legend.
For years, stories have circulated that Nordstrom will let its customers return anything regardless of whether they even purchased it at the store to begin with. Perhaps the most famous story is of a man successfully returning a tire even though Nordstrom only sells clothing and apparel. That much may not be true, but what is certainly the case is that customers will have no trouble returning a gift from Nordstrom after the holidays are over.
There is no time limit for returning a product you purchased online or in the store, and you can even receive a full refund on an item that has been worn. Customers can either return an item by mail for free by printing out a mailing label found on the website, or bring it into the store with either the packing slip or the credit card to get a refund. The receipt isn't necessary.
The only notable exception, Pavini points out, is for purchases made at Nordstrom Rack, Nordstrom's outlet chain. Purchases from these stores must be returned within 30 days, must have a receipt or packing slip and are only accepted if they haven't been worn.
Zappos has set the bar for online return policies. The popular shoe seller offers free shipping and free returns all year round -- a fact that earned it a spot on MainStreet’s list of risk-free retailers. What's more, Zappo’s gives customers up to 365 days to return the purchase for a full refund or store credit. For those who happen to be particularly indecisive, you pretty much have until next holiday season to decide whether to send that gift back.
The only stipulation Zappos makes is that the product needs to be in its original packaging and in the same condition as it was when delivered. So yes, you can test out the shoes and even set them aside for a few months to think about, but don't try to use them every day for a year and then send them back.
L.L. Bean is another online retailer with a very generous return policy. There is no time limit for when shoppers can return a purchase and no receipt is required. All the customer has to do is print out a return or exchange form on the site and either mail it back or bring it to a nearby store for a refund. If you do choose to return the item by mail, L.L. Bean will subtract $6.50 from the refund for shipping costs (unless you have an L.L. Bean Visa card). The better option, if you can manage it, is to bring it back to a store.
Compared to other online retailers, Amazon’s return policy is nothing exemplary, but the shopping behemoth decided to loosen up a bit for the holidays.
Normally, Amazon gives its customers 30 days to return most items, but this year Amazon agreed to extend that for the holidays and let consumers return any item shipped Nov. 1 through the end of the year as late as Jan. 31, 2012. That way, those who purchased their gifts early will still have a full month to return it.
Amazon makes it easy to return the gift even if you're the one who received it rather than the one who purchased it. All you need is the order number on the packing slip and you'll be able to print out a mailing label to return it and receive a gift card in that amount. (The person who purchased it will receive a refund on their credit card.) The one caveat is that Amazon will deduct the cost of shipping from that refund.
Keep in mind, though, that certain products can’t be returned including groceries, gift cards and anything purchased through the site from an independent seller.
Macy's has long had one of the better return policies among the traditional department stores. Customers can return most products sold in stores for up to 180 days after the purchase date and receive a full refund if it's brought back to the store. (If you choose to return the item by mail, Macy's will deduct the cost of shipping from the refund.) Gifts can be returned during the same time frame as regular purchases, though only for a store credit.
According to Pavini, Macy's will also let customers return items in-store without proof purchase, but the tradeoff is you will get a store credit for the lowest selling price of the item in the previous 180 days.
One might assume that cosmetic shops would have stricter return policies, but in fact Pavini says these stores are often very liberal with returns. Case in point: Sephora.
Shoppers can return any product within 60 days by mail (shipping is free) or in store for a full refund and up to 90 days by mail for a store credit. Returns can be made any time after that in stores, though you will need to bring your order summary and return form with you. If you’re returning a gift that someone else bought for you, Sephora will give you store credit.
Like L.L. Bean, Kohl's lets customers return virtually any item at one of its stores or by mail at any time after purchase. If you have a receipt, you'll get a full refund, but even if you don’t, Kohl's will give you a refund, store credit or let you exchange it for something else of the same value.
Shoppers can return any gift by mail if was sent by mail originally (though you’ll have to pay for the shipping cost). Otherwise you'll have to return it in the store, which of course comes at no cost other than time. The only item that Kohl's explicitly states cannot be returned is gift cards.
Items that can't be returned
Regardless of where you shopped for gifts this year, certain items will be difficult to return anywhere or at the very least will have stricter return policies.
According to Pavini, these items include:
- Video games (once the packaging is removed;
- Jewelry (if the tag has been removed);
- Software products like Microsoft Office (if it’s been opened);
- Prepaid game cards;
- Electronics (not impossible, but will generally have shorter return periods);
- Gift cards (though there are secondhand websites you can use to sell them).
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