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Best and worst store return policies

Best advice: Verify the return policy before you buy anything online -- or in the store.

By Karen Datko Nov 24, 2010 4:41PM

This guest post comes from Ashley Watson at dealnews.com.

 

Returning or exchanging an online purchase to any retailer can be complicated, regardless of the reason for the return. Many stores have restrictions, restocking fees, and nonrefundable clauses hidden in the fine print.

We have found that returning the item to the individual store, if possible, is always the easiest even if it takes up your time to travel there and stand in line.

 

But you still need to know a few things:

  • It is important to check the return policy before purchasing a product, and before opening the item or removing UPC numbers. Most stores will offer only an exchange or store credit, or charge a restocking fee for certain opened items.
  • Always save your receipt.
  • Best Buy, Buy.com, Staples, Wal-Mart, and Vann's have special holiday return policies to permit customers to return products that were purchased as gifts. See their websites for more details.
  • Newegg and TigerDirect.com have very limited return policies that vary from product to product. It is important to check the website or call customer service if you have questions about your specific purchase.
  • Costco and Kohl's have the best return policies of all the companies we checked.
  • Most businesses require an RA (return authorization) or RMA (return merchandise authorization) number for a return via mail. You can get this number by visiting the website or calling customer service.
  • While Wal-Mart is one of the only major retailers that will accept returns without a receipt, the cash register system keeps track of each nonreceipt return. If a customer returns more than three items without receipts within a 45-day period, the system flags the transaction, and a member of the management team must approve the return. This message will remain in the system for six months and disappear if there are no more returns at that time.
  • Not all stores enforce their restocking fee in every case, and you may find some willing to accept a return that they normally would refuse. It's worth a call to customer service to haggle.

In addition to these tips, we also recommend contacting customer service if you have any questions regarding your return. Although each retailer we contacted includes a return policy on its website, we discovered other restrictions when speaking with customer-service representatives. Some stores may not list holiday return policies, so it never hurts to double check with a simple phone call or e-mail.

 

For the general return policies and restrictions for major retailers, please review the list below. A longer list of retailers can be found here.

 

Amazon

  • Return policy: 30 days to return most new, unopened items for a full refund. Opened items or new items returned after 30 days may receive a partial refund.
  • Restocking fee: Expect a 50% to 85% partial refund on certain opened items and items returned more than 30 days after delivery. Any item that is not in its original condition, is damaged, or is missing parts for reasons not due to Amazon's error gets up to 50% of item's price.
  • Nonrefundable items: Amazon has a list of specific items, such as grocery products, and nonrefundable conditions that can be found in the returns policy on its website. However, Amazon will issue a full refund for damaged products sold by Amazon.
  • Return shipping: Paid for by consumer (unless the customer received an incorrect or defective item).

Best Buy

  • Return policy: 30 days for most products (from the date the item is received); 14 days for some electronics; 45 days for all products for Reward Zone Premier Silver members.
  • Restocking fee: 25% for special order products, including appliances; 15% for opened notebook computers, projectors, camcorders, digital cameras, radar detectors, GPS navigation and in-car video systems; 10% for iPhones.
  • Nonrefundable items: Best Buy will not refund certain items, such as digital content, consumables, items damaged by the customer, or non-defective, opened computer software, movies, music and video games.
  • Return shipping: Paid by consumer (unless the return is a result of Best Buy's error, in which case Best Buy will cover all reasonable and customary ground shipping fees).

Buy.com

  • Return policy: 45 days, with a valid RMA from the Buy.com website.
  • Restocking fee: None.
  • Nonrefundable items: Downloaded software; oversized televisions (27 inches or larger), unless TV is inspected and found defective before the shipper leaves the customer's premises; any items purchased from third-party retailers; Marketplace items.
  • Return shipping: Paid by consumer (except for verified defective products).

Costco

  • Return policy: 90 days for televisions, projectors, computers, cameras, camcorders, iPod/MP3 players, and cellular phones. All other items unlimited.
  • Restocking fee: None.
  • Nonrefundable items: Not applicable.
  • Return shipping: Paid by Costco.

J.C. Penney

  • Return policy: 90 days for items with a receipt; 30 days for items without a receipt (only in the form of a voucher or credit to the customer's J.C. Penney card).
  • Restocking fee: None.
  • Nonrefundable items: Restrictions apply to furniture; fine jewelry; special occasion dresses; small electronics; electronics; gift registry, monogrammed, personalized and altered merchandise; made-to-measure window coverings; optical; perishable food items; Sephora and Salon. Selected merchandise categories are subject to additional criteria.
  • Return shipping: Paid by consumer, unless the return is a result of J.C. Penney's error.

Kmart

  • Return policy: 90 days for most items; 30 days for air conditioners, gas-powered equipment, jewelry and watches.
  • Restocking fee: 15% for certain opened items or oversized items (contact customer service for more details).
  • Nonrefundable items: Returns without a receipt or e-mail confirmation. Restrictions apply to certain opened or used items (see website for more details). Prescription drugs or special-order jewelry cannot be returned or exchanged.
  • Return shipping: Paid by consumer, unless the return is the result of Kmart's error.

Kohl's

  • Return policy: Any item can be returned at any time, but the sooner the better.
  • Restocking fee: None.
  • Nonrefundable items: N/A.
  • Return shipping: Paid by consumer (unless the item is defective, damaged, or recalled, or a result of a Kohl's error).

Sears

  • Return policy: 90 days for most items; 30 days for home electronics, mattresses, air conditioners, gas-powered equipment, jewelry and watches.
  • Restocking fee: 15% for certain oversized or opened items and special orders canceled after 24 hours of purchase (see website for more details).
  • Nonrefundable items: Returns without a receipt or e-mail confirmation. Restrictions apply to certain opened or used items (see website for details). Customized jewelry cannot be returned or exchanged.
  • Return shipping: Paid by Sears, unless the return is the result of a Sears error.

Target

  • Return policy: 90 days for all purchases. Must have an in-store receipt from Target's online return center to return an item purchased online to a store.
  • Restocking fee: Some items are subject to a 15% restocking fee, including camcorders, digital cameras, portable DVD players and portable electronics.
  • Nonrefundable items: Some opened items, including music, movies, video games, software and collectibles; GiftCards and e-GiftCards; prepaid music, game and phone cards. Other restrictions may apply.
  • Return shipping: Paid by consumer (unless the return is a result of Target's error, in which case Target will also refund any applicable gift-wrapping charges).

Toys R Us

  • Return policy: 90 days for most items; 45 days for video games, accessories, and systems, computer software, VHS cassettes, DVDs, music, electronics, radio-control items, trading cards, collectibles, consumer electronics, monitors and breastpumps.
  • Restocking fee: None.
  • Nonrefundable items: Items restricted to the 45-day time limit cannot be returned if opened. Toys R Us will not process the return for any item returned without the original packaging, packing slip, or if the item is missing any of its components.
  • Return shipping: Paid by consumer (unless the item is defective, damaged, or recalled, or a result of a Toys R Us error).

Wal-Mart

  • Return policy: 90 days for most items; 45 days for computer components and accessories; 30 days for camcorders and digital cameras; 15 days for computers and postpaid cell phones.
  • Restocking fee: None.
  • Nonrefundable items: Each Wal-Mart department has its own guidelines for nonrefundable items (see website for details). For all departments, items without a receipt may be returned in-store only, for a cash refund (for items under $25), a shopping card (for items over $25), or an even exchange. If the customer has returned more than three items without a receipt within a 45-day period, a Wal-Mart manager must approve the return.
  • Return shipping: Paid by consumer (unless the return is a result of Wal-Mart's error, in which case Wal-Mart will also refund any applicable gift-wrapping charges).

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