12 Things to Know About Your Favorite Stores' Return Policies

WELCOME BACK

Shoppers love a good return policy. It's a comfort to be able to make a purchase without worrying about getting money back if there's a problem or you simply have second thoughts. Liberal return policies help retailers, as well, because they make shoppers more likely to impulse buy or try something new. Stores with unrestrictive policies can see increased sales, and customers are more likely to refer friends to the store. Shoppers may be surprised to learn when some stores will -- or will not -- give them their money back.

NORDSTROM GIVES SHOPPERS NO TIME LIMIT AND FREE SHIPPING FOR RETURNS

Long known for a generous return policy -- the department store is credited with once accepting car tires, a product it has never sold -- Nordstrom has brought customer-centric policies to online shopping, as well. Shipping and returns are free for most products anywhere in the U.S., including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. There is no time limit for returns or exchanges, although Nordstrom reserves the right to reject a return request.

SAM'S AND COSTCO'S GENEROUS RETURN POLICIES INCLUDE THE MEMBERSHIP ITSELF

A Sam's Club or Costco can pay for itself with low-cost bulk purchases and access to group-buying discounts, but the return policies are another benefit worth considering. They extend to the membership itself, which can be canceled at any time for a full refund at either store. Costco and Sam's Club also set no time limit for returns of most items (with exceptions such as electronics, cigarettes, and tires). At Costco, packaging and a receipt are not required for a refund, although they are preferred.

SAM'S OFFERS MEMBERS DOUBLE THEIR MONEY BACK ON FRESH GROCERIES

Sam's Club members dissatisfied with fresh produce, meat, or baked goods they buy from the warehouse club can not only ask for their money back; they can claim a refund of double the purchase price, or a refund and a replacement of the product in question. This "200 percent guarantee" also doesn't require a receipt.

L.L. BEAN ACCEPTS RETURNS ANYTIME

Customers not completely satisfied with an L.L. Bean product can get an exchange or refund at any time. Without a receipt, a store employee may be able to pull up a record of the purchase; if not, L.L. Bean will replace the product or issue a gift card for the current selling price (although a receipt is required if a label is missing). Return shipping cuts $6.50 out of a refund for an online purchase (except for shoppers with the store credit card, who get free returns).

TARGET OFFERS A LONGER RETURN PERIOD FOR STORE BRANDS

Target's return policy is relatively generous: Unopened items in new condition -- and some, including beauty products, that have been opened and used -- can be returned within 90 days. Target extends that an extra 30 days for purchases made using the store's credit or debit REDcard. For the 30-plus Target-owned brands (and items on a gift registry), the return period is much longer: a full year. A receipt is generally required, but customer service may be able to look up the transaction by swiping the card used to make the purchase.
PreviousNext

REI NOW LIMITS THE RETURN WINDOW TO ONE YEAR

For years the outdoor store had a return policy with no time limit. Now REI has confined returns to one year from purchase. Aside from that, the rules in the 100 percent satisfaction guarantee are pretty loose. Although the store requires proof of purchase, employees can look up members' purchase history. One request: Clean and launder used items before returning.

BEST BUY IS STRICT -- UNLESS YOU'RE A MEMBER

Best Buy has shortened its return policy to just 15 days for most products, but frequent and big-ticket shoppers can extend that. My Best Buy Elite members (who spend at least $1,500 in a calendar year) get 30 days and Elite Plus members (who spend at least $3,500) get 45 days. A receipt is not required with access to the credit card used to make the purchase, but it doesn't hurt to bring proof of purchase.

AMAZON ISSUES SOME REFUNDS WITHOUT A RETURN

Amazon accepts returns of new and unopened items within 30 days for a refund but charges for return shipping. Some customers have found that when they request a return shipping label, they are issued a refund without having to return the item they bought -- likely because letting the customer keep the product costs Amazon less than processing the return and restocking. Many people report getting the "refund without return" message for inexpensive products or bulky items.

WALMART CUSTOMERS DON'T ALWAYS NEED A RECEIPT FOR A FULL REFUND

Even without a receipt, shoppers can get a cash refund for transactions under $25. Anything more expensive can be exchanged or returned for store credit within the time limit specified in the store's return policy (usually 90 days). Walmart prefers a receipt, but customers can show photo identification to make a return without one.

BED BATH BEYOND NOW REQUIRES A RECEIPT

In addition to a seemingly endless stream of 20 percent-off coupons, Bed Bath Beyond has been known for a generous return policy: Even without a receipt, shoppers could get a full refund in the form of store credit or an exchange. As of April, though, refunds are issued for the current selling price minus 20 percent without a receipt. An exception can be made if the purchase is found in store records by searching the credit card used or an order or registry number.

ZAPPOS STILL STANDS OUT

Now owned by Amazon, Zappos was one of the first ecommerce retailers to offer free shipping and free returns on all orders, recognizing that consumers would be reluctant to buy shoes online without trying them on. The retailer also offers free Priority Mail for residents of Hawaii, Alaska, and the U.S. territories and customers with military addresses. Shoppers have up to a year to return unwanted shoes, clothing, handbags, and accessories, but they must be in their original condition.
PreviousNext

CUSTOMERS WHO MAKE TOO MANY RETURNS CAN BE BANNED

Some stores, reportedly including Home Depot and Best Buy, track customer returns (which is why an ID is usually required) to try to spot fraud. Being suspected of dishonest behavior can get customers temporarily banned from making returns at a store. While only about 1 percent of tracked returns get flagged by the third-party software many retailers use, some people are wrongly caught in the system.