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Know the rules to ensure happy returns

Policies about the same as last year, says Consumer World.

By Teresa Mears Dec 21, 2009 6:44PM

With gifts come gift returns. It’s smart to know a store’s return policy when you buy a gift, in case your loved ones don’t love the gift you picked out as much as you do.


Consumer World says that most policies are the same this year as they were last year, partially reversing a trend toward more restrictive return policies. However, many stores have different return policies for different types of items, making returns more complicated.

Consumer World has a useful chart detailing the policies of 15 major retailers with generous return policies, including Target, Wal-Mart, Sears and Amazon.

The Web site lists these changes in return policies for 2009:

  • Best Buy has lengthened its return period for most items until Jan. 31, but computers still have only a 14-day return period.
  • Target now allows gifts to be exchanged without a receipt, as long as the total of such returns does not exceed $70 in a year. Merchandise can also be exchanged without a receipt for an item of equal or greater value in the same department.
  • Wal-Mart has extended the holiday return period for items normally subject to its 15/30/45-day return policy. Now those return periods begin Dec. 26 rather than on the purchase date.
  • Sears doubled its holiday return period for electronics, software and mattresses to 60 days.
  • Office Depot added a formal extended holiday return period until Jan. 19.

Consumer World also rounded up some of the more unusual return policies:

  • has 29 product-specific return policies in addition to its regular one.
  • Macy's affixes a customer return label to goods so a receipt is not necessary most times.
  • J.C. Penney requires special occasion dresses to be returned with the "return tag" still in place, so buyers can’t wear the dress once and then return it.
  • has up to a 60% restocking fee for some open, used or late items.
  • At Wal-Mart, if a customer returns more than three items without receipts in 45 days, the cash register system will flag the transaction, and a manager’s approval will be required.
  • keeps goods buyers return late a second time, without giving any credit.
  • Office Max will not accept returns of opened cameras and software, unless the items are defective.

The New York Times offers this advice on returns:

  • Don’t assume you can return an item ordered online to the bricks-and-mortar store.
  • Do your homework and know the return policy for the store and the type of item you purchased. Also pay attention to when you can return an item for cash and when you will receive store credit.
  • Check your credit card. Some cards offer refunds on merchandise purchased with the card even when the store denies the refund.
  • Keep your receipts.
  • If you don’t believe the sales clerk is correctly interpreting the store’s return policy, ask to speak to a manager.

Related reading:



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