En español | Each year consumers return billions of dollars’ worth of gifts during the holiday season. But getting refunds in coming months may look different from previous years, as many retailers adjust return policies due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mary Aucoin Kaarto, 62, of Missouri City, Texas, says she will be conscious of return policies while doing holiday shopping.
"Nothing I could buy is worth putting my health or anybody's health at risk,” she says. “At my age I don't want any more hassles, and I don't return something unless there's a good reason.”
How should shoppers know which retailers offer the most accommodating return policies?
Jeanette Pavini, a savings expert and author of The Joy of Saving, says it is important to consider retailers’ policies on shipping returns, time limits on refunds, and restocking fees.
"This year it is especially important to consider a return policy when deciding to make a purchase, because there are new challenges with returns due to the pandemic,” Pavini says.
Here are some of the retailers with the most generous return policies.
"Nordstrom has always kind of sets the bar for return policies,” says Pavini. The luxury department chain offers full refunds for any item, regardless of when the item was purchased. Nordstrom will pay the cost of shipping for customers to send back fine jewelry, worn garments, and most designer items. The only exception is for special-occasion dresses, which must be returned in the condition they were purchased. Customers do not need a receipt to finalize refunds — Nordstrom will provide a gift card of the same price if no record of sale is available.
2. Bath & Body Works
Bath & Body Works guarantees customers they will accept returns on any product at any time, no matter the reason. Used lotion bottles, candles and opened fragrances are all fair game for a full refund as long as the original receipt is presented. If a customer does not have a receipt Bath & Body Works will provide an exchange for an in-store item or merchandise credit.
Have some yoga pants that are not cutting it in spin class? Pavini says that Athleta's “Give-It-a-Workout Guarantee” lets customers return worn clothing items within 60 days of purchase as long as they are not damaged. Athleta will pay for shipping for mailed returns, or customers can receive a refund or exchange an item in-store. Customers who receive Athleta products as a gift can exchange items or make returns for a gift card that matches the gift's original price within 60 days of the original purchase.
Athleta has a special holiday return period: Items purchased between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 can be returned by whichever date is later: Jan 18, or 60 days after the purchase.
Costco has become well-known for its loyal customers, and its return policy is a testament to that trust. The superstore chain offers a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee and will refund the purchase price for any product. Customers do not need a receipt to make a return because every purchase can be traced to a membership, which is required to shop in the retailer's warehouses.
"It just makes you want to do business with them,” Kaarto says of Costco's return policy. “Whether or not you have your receipt, once you have the charge on your credit card, it just goes back to your payment.”
There is a 90-day limit on returning purchases of televisions, appliances, microwaves and most technology, including computers and cellphones. Cigarettes, alcohol, tires and batteries have some return restrictions. Costco memberships, however, can be canceled at any time if a customer is unsatisfied.
5. Lands’ End
Pavini says Lands’ End allows customers to return any item if they are not satisfied with a purchase. The company offers refunds within 90 days of purchase, and for older items will issue a merchandise credit in lieu of a refund. No receipt is needed, but if a customer cannot provide documentation of purchase, the refund amount is determined by Lands’ End.
Target has a 90-day refund policy for unopened items but offers a special extended return policy during the holidays. For electronics and entertainment items purchased between Oct. 1 and Dec. 25, the 90-day refund period begins on Dec. 26.
For Target-owned brands, items can be returned with a receipt for one year after purchase. Target also offers free shipping on mail returns, according to Teresa Britton, founder of savings website MomsWhoSave.com. “All you have to do is go online and click the link that says that you want to make a return,” says Britton.
The online-only shoe retailer will give refunds for any order that is returned within 365 days of purchase. The shoes must be unworn, with the original tags intact — but shipping is paid for and orders can be returned for any reason.
Any item can be returned for any reason at beauty products retailer Ulta. The store requires products to have their original components upon return, which means a previously used product can be refunded as long as it still has its accessories. Products must be returned within 60 days for an original payment refund; later returns will be exchanged for in-store credit.
9. American Eagle
American Eagle is one of the few clothing stores to offer an unlimited return window. Customers can return an item at any time — even a year or more after purchase — without a receipt. The policy excludes only customers suspected of fraud, as well as bathing suits that have had the hygienic liner removed.
Kohl's allows for most purchased items to be returned within 180 days of purchase, and that extends to all products except for premium electronics. To assist customers during the pandemic, Kohl's announced it would accept returns outside of the 180-day return window for the first 30 days after its stores reopened.
As part of a holiday special, premium electronics purchased between Nov. 1 and Dec. 25 can be returned through Jan. 31 with a receipt or Kohl's account.
"What I love about returning things to Kohl's is they literally do not hassle you. And for that reason, it makes me want to shop there more often,” says Kaarto.
Also worth a mention: L.L. Bean
L.L. Bean became well-known for its liberal return policy, which allowed customers to return any item for any reason, even years after purchase. However, the company has since dialed back those policies due to customers who pushed the limits of acceptable returns. Still, the outdoor retailer allows returns on any product within one year of purchase. After one year, L.L. Bean will consider items for return that are defective due to materials or craftsmanship. L.L. Bean requires proof of purchase to earn a refund, and makes customers pay $6.50 for a shipping label if the item is being returned by mail.
Amazon Return Policies
Amazon shoppers hoping to return a pet grasshopper, Ghost pepper cheese curds or lighter fluid may be out of luck. The online retailer prohibits returns of live insects, grocery products, or items classified as hazardous materials. Amazon also imposes various restrictions on returns for technology products, downloadable software, gift cards, jewelry, video game cards, online subscriptions, and health and personal care orders.
Customers should be pay special attention to the return policies of individual sellers when making purchases, according to savings expert Jeanette Pavini.
"Don't assume that every purchase you make from Amazon is returnable per the Amazon return policy, because it can be different if it's a third-party seller,” Pavini says.
The return policy for items that are fulfilled by third-party sellers is determined by the seller rather than Amazon. Customers can view the seller's return policy before and after ordering.