Everything You Need to Know About Holiday Returns

Store return policies vary, and some change during December. Before you take back any holiday gifts, be sure to check the fine print.
Christmas Sweater

If only everyone could receive perfect holiday gifts that they didn't already own (and that the giver got a great deal on) — but that's wishful thinking.

When you're getting ready to return a gift, it's important to familiarize yourself with store return policies to make the process as easy as possible. (And hopefully you received a receipt — that will help!)

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

What fraction of consumers return holiday gifts? And how many are checking return policies before they buy? Here are a few key details to know, as communicated in the 2018 Organized Retail Crime Survey and the 2017 Holiday Planning Playbook, both from the National Retail Federation:

  • Three out of four holiday shoppers checked return policies before making a purchase during the 2016 holiday season.
  • More than one in four retailers have cracked down on their return policies to address organized retail crime.
  • Retailers expect an average of 11.1% of sales to be returned during the holidays, with about 10.3% of those returns being fraudulent.
  • Nearly two-thirds of holiday shoppers made at least one return during the 2016 season.
  • An estimated 11.8% of all returns are missing the receipt.

SEE ALSO: The Ultimate Buying Guide

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. Retailers will commonly give you at least 30 days to make a return, and some are more generous. (Of course, the more time you have, the better.) Certain 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 received your items between November 14 and December 25, though, you have till January 8, 2019, 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 attempt a return.

Nearly two-thirds of holiday shoppers made at least one return during the 2016 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? In that situation, if your return is approved, the amount will be issued on a gift card.

Bed Bath & Beyond: Items can be returned for a refund for up to one year after purchase if you have your receipt. (And if a product is from a brand exclusive to Bed Bath & Beyond, you get up to five years.) 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 365-day policy. But if you don't have a receipt, you'll receive a store credit for the minimum price the item reached.

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. Excluding defective merchandise, you'll have a limit of $250 in non-receipted returns within a 90-day time frame.

Kohl's: With the "Hassle-Free" return policy, receipts are not required and there are no time limits. (Premium electronics are the exception. If they were purchased between November 1 and December 25, you have until January 31 to return them.) Returns that are missing receipts and/or don't have an original purchase record are granted through a store credit; it'll be based on the item's lowest 13-week sale price.

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 when making 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 holiday gifts? Let us know in the comments below!

DealNews 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 Credit.com.
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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Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)

Great to see readers checking out the report! We dug in, and I believe our writeup is correct, since we referenced the percentages that pertain to specifically the holiday season. The figures you quoted are for the entire year.

Here are the two passages from the NRF that refer to these numbers (the emphasis is mine):

"Retailers expect an average of 11.1% of sales to be returned DURING HOLIDAYS, with about 10.3% of those returns being fraudulent."

"In all, survey respondents expect that about 11% of ANNUAL sales will be returned and 8.2% of those returns are fraudulent."
I think you have a typo in:

Retailers expect an average of 11.1% of sales to be returned during the holidays, with about 10.3% of those returns being fraudulent.

It should be Retailers expect an average of 11% of sales to be returned during the holidays, with about 8.2% of those returns being fraudulent.