Stores With the Best Return Policies and Worst Return Policies | Spending
Saving money when shopping is a sport – one which requires skill to hunt down the best bargains. Beyond coupons and deals, there are other things you need to consider when trying to save money. For instance, a retailer’s return policy can greatly affect your overall purchase and cost you more in the long run if you don’t pay attention to the details.
“A store’s return policy is something to consider before making a purchase, especially when buying a gift,” says Teresa Britton, founder of MomsWhoSave.com, a frugal living blog. “If the person you’re buying for needs to make a return, you want it to go as smoothly as possible. Some stores make returns a breeze, while others will actually charge you for making a return in the form of a restocking fee.”
According to the 2020 holiday retail survey from Deloitte, 70% of consumers prefer a retailer that offers free return shipping. Beyond free return shipping, there are other things you need to look out for, including the return time frame, price adjustments and overall customer service.
To help you get ready for this upcoming holiday shopping season and make better buying decisions, here are 12 retailers with the best and worst retail return policies.
Fans of this warehouse store appreciate the endless discounts, but there are far more perks that go above and beyond the savings. Costco has a risk-free 100% satisfaction guarantee, which means you can return select merchandise any time and receive a full refund even without a receipt since it can use your membership ID to search for the purchase, says Julie Ramhold, a consumer analyst at DealNews.com, a discount shopping site. Ramhold points out, though, that there are a few exceptions on items like electronics which must be returned within 90 days, as well as diamonds over 1 carat, cigarettes, alcohol, custom items and items with a limited useful life expectancy.
Another bonus to Costco’s return policy is that it never changes, unlike other retailers that may tweak terms during the holiday shopping rush. “The return policy is the same year-round, so if a holiday shopper needs to return an item they purchased, they can do so whenever,” Ramhold says.
This popular big-box retailer makes it easy to return merchandise you’re not satisfied with, offering 90 days from the date of purchase to receive a full refund or exchange. If you don’t have a receipt, credit or debit cards can be used to look up the order. If you don’t have the card you paid with, a return without receipt is an option, but this is capped to a certain dollar amount per person, per year to reduce fraudulent returns. Another benefit of Target’s lenient return policy is that online orders can easily be returned to local stores, so you don’t have to deal with return shipping for the items. Meanwhile, Target-owned brand items can be brought back for a full refund or exchange within one year of purchase with a receipt.
Jeanette Pavini, savings expert and author of “The Joy of $aving,” says Target stands out for its price adjustment policy. If you purchase an item at Target and it goes on sale the same week or the week following, you can get money back for the difference, she says.
American Eagle Outfitters
Most retailers put a deadline when you can make a return or exchange, but there are a few that give you an unlimited window. For example, American Eagle Outfitters’ relaxed return policy sets it apart from other clothing brands, giving you no time restraints to return unused merchandise. According to Ramhold, shoppers can return items at this store for a full refund at any time as long as you have proof of purchase. If you don’t have a receipt, you’re still eligible to exchange the item or receive store credit for the current price with the exception of swimsuits and underwear that have had the hygienic liner removed, she adds.
New and unopened products can be returned within a year of purchase, but make sure you have proof of purchase to receive a full refund. Even opened products can be returned, Ramhold says, noting that these items must be returned within 180 days to get money back. There are exclusions though, including plants, cut fabric, custom countertops, items sold as-is, and anything that is dirty, stained or damaged, she adds.
This online retail giant is known for fast shipping, but that’s not the only place it shines. Amazon also makes it easy to return most merchandise as long as it’s fulfilled by Amazon. When ordering from a third-party seller, the policy may vary, so check the fine print. Return options are simple: Choose to drop the item at a local UPS shipping center, or arrange a pickup from home. You may even be able to drop the item off at a nearby Kohl’s store without a box. Just show customer service your return bar code through the Amazon app for quick processing. When returning a gift, you won’t be able to make an exchange, but you will be refunded with an Amazon gift card which is the next best thing. The only downside is that returns are limited to 30 days from receipt of shipment. Luckily, Amazon is providing extra time during the holiday.
“Amazon has a terrific return policy in my experience, and more so around the holidays, giving extra time for returns,” says Britton, who points out that items purchased between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2020, can be returned through the end of January 2021.
This luxury brand retailer appeals to many online shoppers for its speedy free shipping both ways. When you receive your order, a prepaid shipping label is usually included, making it easy to send the item back at no cost. Otherwise, you can return the merchandise in person to a local Nordstrom. Although its website does not include a time frame for when returns can be processed, this retailer is rather lenient and their customer service team will review each request on a case-by-case basis, meaning you can usually return an item well past 90 days from purchase and potentially up to a year past the date the order was originally received.
Some stores offer very flexible return policies, allowing you to get a full refund even if you used an item and were not pleased with the quality or fit of the merchandise, Pavini says, noting that Nordstrom is known for a no-questions-asked return policy and stellar customer service.
Limited return windows put pressure on shoppers to bring items back quickly, but Kohl’s is pretty relaxed, giving customers up to 180 days after the original purchase date. The only exception is premium electronics, which must be returned within 30 days of purchase with the original packaging and a valid receipt or account lookup.
“One hundred and eighty days is about six months to decide if you like something or not,” Ramhold says. “It also means that sweater you bought in November and thought you would wear all winter long can be returned in May when you realize it sat in your closet the whole time.”
Shopping for clothes online can be tricky especially when you aren’t sure what size you are. Plus, garments can run big or small, or even stretch out after one wear. Though most stores won’t allow you to return an item that has been worn or has tags removed, Athleta is very flexible, giving shoppers a chance to try their products before committing to the purchase and promising a Give-It-a-Workout Guarantee, points out Pavini. “If your garments don’t perform, you can return it within 60 days, so you can try it to see if you like it,” she says. Additionally, Althea provides 60 days to return orders.
With one of the shortest return windows, Apple ranks as having one of the worst return policies, allowing just 14 calendar days from the time you received your item to return it. To qualify for a refund, the item must be repackaged and include everything it came with, such as cords, adapters and documentation. Items that aren’t eligible include opened software, electronic software downloads, software upgrades, Apple gift cards, Apple developer products and Apple Print products.
“In addition to a very short return window, the fact that you must return everything, including documentation (so booklets that are included for setup purposes and whatnot) means it’s just one more thing to worry about,” Ramhold says.
Barnes and Noble
Shoppers can return items purchased from Barnes and Noble within 30 days, but it must be in original condition – and even shrink-wrapped items must be unopened. Otherwise, the return may be denied. Additionally, anyone trying to return a NOOK will only have 14 days from the purchase date to get a refund. This limited time frame isn’t the only downside of Barnes and Noble’s poor return policy. Shipping charges are nonrefundable, and online shipments must be mailed back with the cost on the consumer.
“Online orders must be mailed back for returns and you’ll have to pay return shipping,” Ramhold says. “Purchases made in-store must be returned in-store, and there are exclusions.”
Limited return windows make it difficult for shoppers to get money back on their purchase, and most items at Best Buy must be returned within 15 days of purchase. It’s important to note, though, that My Best Buy Elite and Elite Plus members have slightly longer time frames to return some items. “Best Buy adds insult to injury in that you’ll have to pay a restocking fee for returns as well,” Ramhold says. “It’s listed as $45 or 15% of the item’s purchase price, depending on what it is.”
Michelle Madhok, online shopping expert and founder of SheKnows.com, says resale sites like eBay and Poshmark have the worst return policies, as sellers are not required to accept returns, making most purchases a final sale. Before buying anything, review the fine print and try to purchase from those that accept returns if you are on the fence about a particular purchase. Otherwise, make sure you are familiar with a clothing or shoe brand before buying to ensure a proper fit.