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Everything You Need to Know About Holiday Returns

Store return policies vary, and some change during November and December. Before making your holiday purchases, be sure to check the fine print.
Christmas Sweater

If only you could find the perfect gift for everyone on your list and live happily ever after — but that's wishful thinking.

When you're doing your holiday shopping, it's important to familiarize yourself with store return policies to ensure you're buying a gift that's easy to return if it doesn't work out. Then you'll be able to tell your recipients about any return deadlines, and whether they'll need a receipt to get a refund.

Read on for the essential info on holiday returns, from the fine print to look for to the retailers with the best policies.

Returns by the Numbers

How many consumers return holiday gifts? And what are retailers doing to lend a helping hand? Here are a few key details to know, as communicated in the 2015 Consumer Returns in the Retail Industry report, from the Retail Equation and the National Retail Federation:

  • About 21% of retailers implement more stringent return policies during the holidays; 3.3% loosen their policies.
  • Returns amount to a whopping $260.5 billion in lost sales for retailers in the U.S.; an estimated $15.9 billion is connected to fraudulent and abusive returns.
  • Thirty-eight percent of gift recipients returned at least one item during the prior holiday season.
  • About 32% of consumers rarely or never give their recipients a gift or original receipt.

SEE ALSO: 9 Expert Tips to Avoid Overspending During the Holidays

What to Look for in Return Policies

Not all return policies are equal. Here are the questions you should ask to identify those that stand out.

How Much Time Do You Have?

Yes, you're on the clock. You can't just sit on an item for six months, then walk into a store and expect to get your money back. Most retailers will give you at least 30 days to make a return, while some are more generous. (Of course, the more time you have, the better.) Other stores give you 60 or even 90 days, but there's usually a cutoff for getting cash back — and you may have to settle for a gift card.

Also, some stores expand their return policies during the holiday season, so watch out for any specific return dates for purchases made in November and December. Apple, for example, typically gives you 14 days for returns. If you receive your items between November 15 and December 25, though, you have till January 8, 2018, to return them.

Is a Receipt Required to Make a Return?

If you don't have your receipt handy, you may still be able to return an item in exchange for store credit. But some retailers will reject your return altogether.

What Items Can't Be Returned or Exchanged?

The list varies by retailer, but super-exclusive or used items probably won't make the cut. So it's best to read the fine print or ask to confirm the return policy before you fork over your hard-earned cash.

Thirty-eight percent of gift recipients returned at least one item during the prior holiday season.

Will You Need to Provide Identification?

Some retailers request a valid form of ID when you make a return. Why so? (Hint: It has nothing to do with who you are.) Those who shoplift will be less inclined to return an item for cash if their name is attached to the transaction. Plus, it helps retailers track irregular return patterns.


Retailers With Great Return Policies

Nordstrom: Returns are handled on a case-by-case basis, but there is no time limit on when you can head in and request a refund. Don't have your receipt? If your return is approved, the amount will be issued on a gift card.

Bed Bath & Beyond: Items can be returned for a refund at any time if you have your receipt. Otherwise, the retailer can try to locate any purchases made during the past year. If the transaction cannot be traced, you can get a merchandise credit for the current selling price, minus 20%.

IKEA: You have an entire year to decide if you want to return a purchase from IKEA, thanks to its "No-Nonsense — 365 Days to Change Your Mind" policy. But if you don't have proof of purchase and it can't be located in the system, you'll receive a store credit for the minimum price the item reached in the last 365 days.

Bath & Body Works: This retailer offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee on each purchase, and lets you exchange the items or return them for a refund (or merchandise credit). If you don't have your receipt, you'll receive a store credit based on the item's lowest selling price.

Kohl's: Their "Hassle-Free" return policy is about as good as it gets, as receipts are not required and there are no time limits. (Premium electronics are the exception. If you purchase them between November 1 and December 25, you have until January 31 to return them.) Returns that are missing receipts, and were paid for in cash, are granted through a store credit or merchandise swap. If you paid using a credit card, the refund will be issued there.

One final note: Always read the fine print to ensure you understand the retailer's policy, so you won't be in for any surprises. And should you have to make your own returns, try to wait until the madness dies down to head into the store.

Readers, which stores do you think have the best and worst return policies? How often do you return gifts during the holidays? Let us know in the comments below!

Contributing Writer

After spending several years as a governmental accountant, Allison transitioned into the world of freelance writing. Her work has appeared on on a number of reputable sites, including The Wall Street Journal, Investopedia, Daily Finance, MSN Money, and
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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I am actually surprised and disappointed. I thought you guys did a bit more research when you posted. This is supposed to be HOLIDAY return policies, no?

Apple generally has a 14 day window normally, but during the holidays, anything bought between Nov 15th and Dec 25th can be returned up to Jan 8th. They have pretty much done that every year for a long time.

Best Buy you can return most items until Jan 14. Exceptions are cell phones, and things that can be activated. Elite and Elite Plus members are Jan 29 and Feb 13 respectively.

For Barnes & Noble if you have a receipt/gift receipt you have until Jan 31 for items bought between Nov 17 and Dec 31. Excepts are ebooks.

Maybe call out companies like that have unclear policies suggesting that returns will go back to original card, and exchanges can only be made for difference sizes.

Also Costco should be on the "nice" this for this. They return just about anything.
what about amazon returns, nowadays they are being more stringent than earlier
All I need to know about returns: