at some unwanted, wrong-sized or just plain
what-were-they-thinking holiday gifts? Even if itís
just a pair of mittens or a blender you know youíll
never use, itís probably not too late to exchange or
return it. But donít procrastinate.
experts say more stores are "slicing and
dicing" their return policies, which means you may
have more weeks to return a pair of PJs, but fewer days
left to exchange that new computer or video game.
in some cases, retailers will not issue any refunds,
even with a receipt, on certain electronics and
big-ticket items, like large-screen TVs.
donít realize that some retailers have changed their
policies," said Edgar Dworsky, founder of
ConsumerWorld.org, a Boston-based consumer site that
produces an annual survey of return policies by 12 major
retailers. "Thereís been a general tightening of
return policies over the years Ö and a trend toward
categorizing," offering different deadlines for
returning different types of merchandise.
said three chains ó Best Buy, Sears and Toys R Us ó
have shortened their holiday return windows this year,
meaning you have two weeks to a month less time to
return that Juice-O-Matic or electronic gizmo. For Best
Buy, the return cutoff is Jan. 15 for items purchased in
November; for Toys R Us, itís Jan. 25 for general
merchandise, but only until Jan. 9 for certain
electronics. (For a chart of some retailersí policies,
go to ConsumerWorld.org.)
28 percent of retailers changed their holiday return
policies this year, according to a survey by the
National Retail Federation.
of the changes are intended to thwart fraudulent
returns, which the NRF estimates was an $8.76 billion
headache for retailers in 2013. Nearly half that fraud
amount ó $3.39 billion ó hit stores during the
holiday season, including counterfeit receipts, return
of stolen goods and "wardrobing," where
consumers try to return clothing or merchandise (after
it has been worn or used) by passing it off as new.
make your gift returns easier this season, here are a
few rules of the road:
THE RECEIPT: "Try to bring some proof of purchase.
Tags on an item arenít enough," Dworsky said. If
you have a gift receipt, youíll likely get store
credit or the ability to exchange or return it. Without
a receipt, youíll be lucky to get the lowest price it
recently sold for, not necessarily what the giver paid
stores tend to be more generous with returns for
anything bought from November through Christmas,"
said Tod Marks, a senior editor with ConsumerReports
magazine. "But you have to know whatís excluded,
whatís included and whether youíre subject to a
restocking fee," he said.
you donít have a receipt or are trying to return
something beyond the storeís stated deadline, use
diplomacy, says Dworsky. "A lot of it is about
tone, your voice. You canít be demanding if youíre
asking for a favor."
if what youíre requesting is within the storeís
policies but you cannot get satisfaction, be "a
little more aggressive," he said, such as asking to
speak with a store manager. Just remember to be firm,
but keep your tone civil.
THE POLICY: Before you show up at the customer counter,
call, go online or read your paper receipt to check the
storeís return policy. "Theyíve gotten so long
and more complicated. No wonder consumers are
confused," said Dworsky, who said this yearís
survey of return policies for 12 major retailers was
about 11 pages longer.
stores become more lenient this time of year, stretching
their return policies on most items (but typically not
electronics), giving customers until mid-to-late January
for gifts purchased between November and Christmas.
Others, like Target, keep a 30-day policy, but donít
start counting until the day after Christmas ó Dec.
OPEN IT: If youíve received pricey electronics,
computers, software, cameras, etc., donít slice open
the packaging if youíre planning to return it. Some
stores, like Best Buy or Fryís, can be picky if youíve
opened the package.
youíve broken the seal, youíve bought it,"
Marks said. And certain items, primarily big-screen TVs,
"are often ineligible for returns. Period."
ON YOU: Be aware that more stores are tracking their
customersí patterns of returns. It starts when you get
asked for a photo ID when youíre making a return.
Doing so, says Marks, allows stores to collect data on
your return history: Multiple returns in a certain time
frame. Returns without receipts. Number of stores where
youíve sought returns. How long since your last
most people, itís not a problem. But if you get
flagged, you might find youíre temporarily denied the
ability to make a return. "Your return privileges
might be suspended for 90 days, if your pattern doesnít
pass muster," Marks said. He said companies rarely
state these policies explicitly, but theyíre
definitely in use.
to The Retail Equation, an Irvine, Calif., company that
provides retailers with data analysis of customer
returns, the process is designed to identify fraudulent
or abusive behavior involving a small minority of
1 percent of consumers who get denied (return
privileges)," its website says, "exhibit
return behaviors that mimic fraud or abuse or exhibit
habits that are inconsistent with the retailerís
in some cases, Marks said, perfectly legitimate
consumers can still have their return privileges curbed
if they fall into categories that are deemed suspicious.
If you believe youíve been flagged unfairly, contact
the company by letter (The Retail Equation, P.O. Box
51373, Irvine, CA 92619-1373) or email: ReturnActivityReport@TheRetailEquation.com.
RETURNS: Some stores will waive shipping fees when youíre
returning something bought online, by providing
customers with a prepaid shipping label. Also, check and
see if you can return an online purchase to a
brick-and-mortar store, rather than pay shipping fees to
mail it back to the warehouse. Stores like Macyís,
Target and REI honor that policy.
online retailer with the most-generous return policy?
Landís End, says Marks, which lets customers
"return anything at any time," even items that
were hemmed or monogrammed.
RETURNS? If you were caught up in the late-December
avalanche of online gift buying, what was ordered might
not have arrived by the "guaranteed" Dec. 25
delivery date. Both FedEx and UPS were surprised by a
last-minute deluge of online purchasing that delayed
their ability to deliver in time for Christmas.
"Both have an on-time guarantee, but thereís a
lot of weaseling," said Dworsky. For instance, the
wording may exclude guarantees for ground shipments
between Dec. 15 and Christmas, the last 10 days of the
holiday, "which doesnít do consumers any
good," he said.
your purchase arrived later than promised, it might be
worth complaining or seeking a refund.
made the promise of guaranteed delivery by Christmas,
thatís who you need to contact," said Dworsky,
who noted that some stores, like Kohlís, are giving
out $25 gift cards to customers whose purchases didnít
arrive on time.
the first weeks of January can be an ideal time to wade
back into retail stores with your returns, a period when
clerks arenít so harried and the waves of post-holiday
bargain hunters have long gone.
are youíre not out of time, at least through the end
of January," Marks said.