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2013 Holiday Return Policies

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THREE MAJOR CHAINS SHORTEN RETURN WINDOWS;
BUT HOLIDAY GRACE PERIODS BLUNT THE EFFECT ON SHOPPERS

shopping (BOSTON-Dec. 18, 2013) Based on its annual return policy survey, ConsumerWorld.org says that three major stores have shortened their return periods, but most retailers' return policies have remained about the same as last year.

According to the National Retail Federation, 28% of stores surveyed change their return policies for the holidays, while 72% keep them the same. These special holiday policies typically extend the normal return period into January or even February. Consumer World found a few high-profile stores, however, have tightened restrictions for goods like electronics and appliances.

Many stores continue to "slice and dice" their return policies, creating complicated rules for different categories of items. Electronic items may be subject to stricter rules than say, clothing. Computers, digital cameras, and opened goods may be subject to limited return rights, restocking fees, shorter return periods, or no refunds at all, in part to discourage buyers from "renting" goods for the weekend and to help thwart return fraud. Online policies may also differ from store rules.

Noteworthy policies, policy changes, or unusual return policies for 2013 include:

  • Best Buy cut its regular return period in half from 30 to 15 days for most customers last March, and shortened its holiday return period by nine days (now January 15 instead of January 24). Special orders now are not refundable.

  • Sears shortened its regular return policy for major appliances and vacuums from 60 to 30 days, and excludes them from its extended holiday return period. On the other hand, Sears extended the return period for mattresses to 60 days. Sears continues to impose a 15% restocking fee for missing parts or if items are used. Exchanged items are not eligible for a subsequent refund, only another exchange.

  • Toys-R-Us introduced an extended holiday return policy until January 25 for most items, but certain electronics purchased November 1 onwards must be returned by January 9. Previously, electronic items had a 45-day return window, but now that is reduced to only 30.

  • Macy's now imposes a 15% restocking fee on furniture and mattress returns. They continue to affix a customer return label to some goods so a receipt may not be necessary.

  • Amazon now rejects jewelry returned without all documentation (previously it imposed a 15% restocking fee). Restocking fees were reduced from 50% to 20% for late returns.

    Unusual policies:

  • Target.com will pay for return shipping with their label. REDcard holders get 30 extra return days. Items that are opened/damaged/receipt-less may be denied a refund or exchange.

  • Express, Bloomingdale's, and Macys.com require special occasion dresses to be returned with tags in place to deter "wardrobing" - buying then returning after a one-time wearing.

  • Overstock.com: 37-inch and larger TVs are not returnable, and there is up to a 100% restocking fee for some open, used, or late items.

  • Sports Authority stores will not accept returns of goods purchased at their online store.

  • Office Max's 30-day return policy excludes refunds on goods that it no longer stocks. Open technology products returned within 14 days are subject to a 15% restocking fee.


    "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."

    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 Jan. 31 for most items shipped 11/01 thru 12/31. Restocking fees: 50% on open DVDs, CDs; minimum 50% of price for incomplete/used items; 100% for open software.
    Best Buy January 15 for most purchases Nov. 3 on.
    Buy.com February 15 for goods purchased November 25 to December 31.
    Costco No deadline, but 90 days: TVs, computers, cameras, MP3 players, cellphones, projectors.
    Kohl's No deadline.
    Macy's stores No deadline, but furniture (3 days), mattresses (60). Receipt or return label gets price paid.
    Marshalls January 7 for purchases Oct. 20 - Dec. 8. This retailer posted clear in-store signs about its extended holiday return policy.
    Overstock.com January 31 for most items purchased Nov. 1 or later. Fees apply if opened, used, or late.
    Sears 90/60/30 days depending on item; January 24 deadline for most 30/60 day items purchased Nov. 17 on; Report certain damaged goods within 72 hours or no refund; Even exchange only on some open items; 15% restocking fee on electronics missing parts; mattresses, etc.
    Staples No deadline for office supplies. January 11 for electronics & furniture bought since Nov. 24.
    TJ Maxx January 7 for purchases Oct. 20 - Dec. 8. This retailer posted clear in-store signs about its extended holiday return policy.
    Target 90 days most items, except 30 days for computers (laptops, eReaders, tablets), cameras, game consoles, gps, more, but 30 days begins 12/26 for purchases since 11/1. May deny refund for opened items or those without a receipt.
    Toys-R-Us January 25 (or 90 days) for most items, but January 9 (or 30 days) for certain electronics.
    Walmart stores 90 days most items. For purchases made from November 1 on, 15 days (PCs, cameras, GPS, more), 30 days (garden, compressors, 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. Some stores record IDs in a tracking database to detect excessive returns or to thwart return fraud.

    =================================
      TIPS FOR HASSLE-FREE RETURNS
    =================================

  • 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.
     
  • 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.



  • Return Policy Survey 2013: retailers' return policies compared

    Return to Consumer World.

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