There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is, your Aunt Clara got you pink, bunny-eared, footed pajamas. The good news is, it’s easier than ever to return gifts you don’t like and don’t want.
“If shoppers follow the rules, they should have many happy returns,” said Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org, a consumer watchdog and resource site. “But, since the rules vary so much from store to store, you really have to read the fine print.”
In a bid to differentiate themselves from the competition, many retailers such as Kohl’s and Macy’s have rolled out, hassle-free return policies. But others have held onto convoluted return policies that add layers of frustration, and have even added more strict terms and conditions than last year.
“Better Business Bureau will receive hundreds of complaints following the holidays because consumers will not be able to return a gift,” said Warren Clark, president of Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York.
Best Buy has shortened its return period by nine days, and that’s after it already cut its regular return period in half from 30 days to 15 days. All holiday returns must be completed by Jan. 15 and special orders can’t be refunded.
Toys R Us extended its general holiday return period for most items until Jan. 25, but shortened its return period for others.
Certain electronics purchased after Nov. 1 now have to be returned within 30 days. Cameras, camcorders, digital audio players, video game hardware, DVD players and no-contract cellphones must be returned by Jan. 9.
Other notable policies
Macy’s does not have a limited return period, except for furniture, which must be in three days, and mattresses, which must be returned in 60 days. Occasion and cocktail dresses cannot be returned if sales tags are removed.
Amazon.com generally gives you 30 days to return items, with the return period starting on the date the shipment was received. Items purchased from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31 must be returned by Jan. 31. Some items can be returned after that deadline, subject to a 20 percent restocking fee. Jewelry without proper documentation is subject to a 20 percent restocking fee or up to a 50 percent restocking fee for late returns.
CDs, DVDs and video games that have been taken out of their plastic wrap are subject to a 50 percent restocking fee. Items that are damaged, missing parts, used or otherwise not in original condition (unless due to an Amazon error) are subject to a 50 percent restocking fee. Opened software is subject to a 100 percent restocking fee.
Many individual sellers adhere to the same returns policies, but can vary widely.
Buy.com (which is now known as Rakuten.com) has the longest return period. Purchases made from Nov. 25 to Dec. 31 can be returned until Feb. 15.
Sears has a return window that can stretch anywhere from 30 to 90 days, depending on the item.
It has special rules for major appliance and vacuum returns, which now have to be returned within 30 days and are excluded from its extended holiday return period.
Marshalls and TJ Maxx have a Jan. 7 cutoff for items purchased from Oct. 20 to Dec. 8. You’ll have 30 days from the purchase date for items purchased Dec. 9 or after.
Staples doesn’t impose a return deadline, unless it’s for office furniture or electronics bought since Nov. 24, which must be returned by Jan. 11.
Target.com will pay for return shipping as long as you use their return label. You’ll have 90 days for most returns plus an additional 30 days if you use your Target REDcard. Some electronics (computers, cameras and GPS devices) purchased from Nov. 1 to Dec. 25 have a 30-day return period which begins Dec. 26.
For best results
There are a few things you can do to make the return process go a bit more smoothly.
Be nice. The person behind the counter has probably been working double shifts since Thanksgiving.
Remember, New York State does not require stores to accept returns.
Be aware that the return period begins the day your gift was purchased or shipped, not the day you received it.
Read the policy’s fine print before you attempt the return to make sure you’ve got all your ducks in a row.
Every retailer has its own rules, but not every store employee knows what they are. That’s why it’s important to print a copy of a retailer’s return policy and bring it with you for easy reference.
Bring your receipt and photo identification. You’ll probably be asked for both.
Know that you’ll be entered into a database that tracks information about you – something put in place to foil thieves and “wardrobers,” or people who wear things and then return them.
Stores may have different rules for gift receipts, such as allowing only an exchange instead of a refund.
Be aware that stores might have a different set of rules for holiday returns. New York State requires that those rules be posted and easily available.
Consider using a smartphone app such as Shoeboxed to capture and file paper receipts digitally.
Keep all tags affixed.
Keep everything in its original packaging.