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2014 Holiday Return Policies


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shopping (BOSTON-Dec. 17, 2014) Based on its annual return policy survey, reports that some stores are making it easier this year to make returns by offering even longer return periods and postage-free return shipping, but most retailers' return policies have remained about the same as last year.

These special extended holiday policies allow the return of gifts purchased in November until mid- to late January, considerably beyond the normal return deadline for some stores.

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. These types of restrictions are aimed at reducing return fraud which cost retailers an estimated $9.1 billion in 2013.

The complexity of stores' return policies is underscored by their sheer length. The policies of the dozen stores in the accompanying chart span some 45 pages, totaling over 20,000 words.

Noteworthy policies, policy changes, or unusual return policies for 2014 include:

  • Many online stores have begun offering "free returns" whereby the store pays the return postage for unwanted items, but sometimes only in certain categories. These stores include Macy's (some exclusions), Amazon (certain fashions only), Target (storewide), Saks (restrictions), Old Navy (storewide), Gap (storewide), Neiman Marcus (restrictions), Bloomingdale's (some exclusions), and Nordstrom (storewide).

  • Sears widened it holiday return window to start on November 9 instead November 17.

  • Marshalls and T.J. Maxx extended their holiday return deadline by two weeks to Jan. 23, and Staples extended its deadline by almost a week to January 17.

  • now accepts returns of TVs over 37-inches, but TVs 50-inches or more are subject to $100-$695 return shipping fees, and if opened, unspecified restocking fees.

  • Sports Authority stores will now accept returns of goods purchased at their online store.

    Unusual policies:

  • Target REDcard holders get 30 extra return days. Items that are opened/damaged/receipt-less may be denied a refund or exchange.

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

  • Without a receipt, Walmart gives customers the option of a cash refund (if the purchase was under $25), a shopping card for the amount of the purchase (if it was over $25) or an even exchange for the product.

  • In the event that a customer has returned more than three items without receipts within a 45-day period, the Walmart cash register system will automatically flag the transaction, and a customer service manager or member of management must approve the return. These cash register messages will remain for six months and will disappear if there are no more returns during that time period.

    "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: Jan. 31 for most items shipped 11/01 thru 12/31. Restocking fees on certain computer returns; downloads - no refunds. Stated policies far less specific than in previous years.
    Best Buy January 15 for most purchases Nov. 1 - Dec. 31. Elite members get more time.
    Costco No deadline, but 90 days: TVs, computers, cameras, MP3 players, cellphones, projectors.
    Kohl's No deadline.
    Macy's stores No deadline, but some furniture (3 days), mattresses (60). Receipt or return label gets price paid. Restocking fees on some items.
    Marshalls January 23 for purchases Oct. 19 - Dec. 24. This retailer posts clear in-store signs about their extended holiday return policy. 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. 9 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, canceled special orders, etc.
    Staples No deadline for office supplies. January 17 for electronics & furniture bought since Nov. 23.
    TJ Maxx January 23 for purchases Oct. 19 - Dec. 24. This retailer posts clear in-store signs about their extended holiday return policy.
    Target 90 days most items, except 30 days for electronics and entertainment items, but 30 days begins 12/26 for purchases since 11/1. May deny refund for opened items or those without a receipt. REDcard holders get 30 extra return days.
    Toys-R-Us January 24 for most items purchased Sept. 1 onward, but January 9 for select electronics (computer hardware, tablets, etc.) purchased Nov. 1 onward.
    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.


  • 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 2014: retailers' return policies compared

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