Whether it’s a single item or a pile of impulse buys that you’ll never use, returning things to the store always feels like a daunting task. Are you still in the return window? Do you still have the receipt? Are you prepared to go head-to-head with a store employee? Some of these potential scenarios are nothing short of stress-inducing.
The more you know about store returns, the more likely it is that you’ll be able to bring items back without causing a scene. Take note of these common return policies at popular stores so you’ll be better prepared the next time you get in that customer service line.
1. Holiday return windows may be longer.
The average return window for stores in the U.S. is 30 days—an amount of time that enables the store to resell the item while it’s still in season. This regular return window is usually the default from January to Black Friday.
Retail businesses typically make a lot of their money during the holiday season. To catch early seasonal shoppers out buying gifts, many retailers will try to incentivize customers by offering sales or a longer return window—usually around 90 days. Every store has its own holiday return policy, which you will find on the receipt or on signs posted in the store. Take advantage of the longer holiday return windows, especially on items you aren’t sure you will keep.
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2. Some retailers have generous return policies.
Some stores have seemingly magical return policies. Here are a few worth noting:
- Nordstrom allows refunds for any item with no time limit. Although a receipt will make it easier to process your return, it’s not required.
- Bath and Body Works allows customers to return any product for any reason. If you gambled on a fragrance and didn’t pick a winner, you can return it with no questions asked. If you have a receipt, you get a full refund. Without a receipt, you can make an exchange or get store credit.
- Costco is well known for its liberal return policies. Because the store wants you to be completely satisfied, it will refund the purchase price of any product. As a member, your account shows your purchases, so you don’t need a receipt.
- Ulta allows you to return any item for any reason. If you don’t like a product, you can return it and find something you love instead.
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3. You can return items for many reasons.
There are plenty of reasons for wanting to return an item to a store. The most obvious reason for a return is that you just didn’t like what you bought. Returns can also be helpful if you received a defective, broken, or dented item, or if the purchase did not meet your expectations. Returns are also great if you received a gift you did not enjoy. No matter what the reason, most stores offer some way for you to either get your money back or use a store credit to choose something you may like better.
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4. Return policies are not a borrowing system.
Stores are not libraries. You may be tempted to use returns to try out new and exciting things, but if people take advantage of return policies, stores may add restrictions or change their policies to offer the bare minimum instead.
We’re all familiar with examples of the “try it out” approach, such as buying a dress, wearing it to a party, and returning it the next day, or bringing home a large television to watch the big game only to take it back to the store afterward.
Stores don’t offer returns so you can have a free “rental,” and you should not be buying a lifestyle based on returning things. To discourage this behavior, some stores will track your returns and be less kind the more you abuse their policies.
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5. A missed return window may be negotiable.
If you shop on Amazon, you already know they won’t accept items after the return window passes. If you miss the return window, in most cases you’re out of luck. You can always attempt to go in person, call the store’s customer support, or chat with them online, but don’t have high expectations.
Retailers’ return policies vary. Depending on the business, these policies range from offering the item’s current price to providing a refund on a case-by-case basis. Life gets busy, and empathetic customer service representatives may be more flexible about a return window if you are polite and patient and understand that the company does not have to accept your return.
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6. Ask about price adjustments.
You recently made a purchase after a lot of hemming and hawing, only to see the item go on sale immediately after you brought it home. If you had held out, you could have saved some money—but it may not be too late.
If you are in this situation, consider asking the store for a price adjustment. Go to customer service with your receipt and explain that you would like to pay the lower price for your recently purchased item. Stores like Target, Kohl’s, Macy’s, and Walmart offer price adjustments. Note that price adjustments only apply to recent purchases, not something you bought a long time ago.
If the store doesn’t offer price adjustments and you’re still in the return window, there is a work-around: Simply return the item and then go repurchase it at the reduced price.
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7. What happens to returned items?
When you return an item, what does the store do with it? Generally, if it is unopened and in new condition, it can be placed back on the shelf and resold. If there are minor defects—dents or dings—the item may go to the store’s clearance or sale rack.
Among larger retailers, it is common practice for returns to be destroyed and thrown away. Some companies, such as Amazon, might tell you to keep the unwanted item and issue you a refund without your having to return the product. It depends on the item (food is not safe to keep/resell, for example), but most returned products won’t be placed back on the shelves.
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8. You can purchase returned items at a discount.
Shopping for returned items saves you a lot of money and helps keep useful products out of landfills. Places like KrazyBins offer returned items to the public at a discount. These types of stores have a tiered pricing system, with prices lowered each day. If you don’t live near any stores like KrazyBins, there are many online outlets for returned items. As well, Target, Amazon, Walmart, and others offer their returned merchandise for sale, and you can find whole pallets of items for cheap.
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Online shopping is fun and convenient, but it’s often a gamble. Until your purchase is delivered, you don’t know if it works or fits, or if it’s as good as its advertising. If you aren’t sure about an item, always check out the return policies on the online retailer’s website before clicking “order now.”
Companies like Amazon simplify returns for online purchases. For Amazon, all you have to do is go into your account orders and let the site walk you through the return. A great hack for making online returns easier is to reuse the packaging the item came in. To do this, flip the bag inside out so the interior becomes the outside. Place the item to be returned in the bag, tape it shut, and send it off.
10. You can sometimes return items without a receipt.
Each store has a different policy for returns without a receipt, so don’t expect every vendor to be equally accommodating. That said, Walmart, Target, and Kroger are three retailers that offer similar return policies for items returned without a receipt. Walmart offers exchange, cash back if the item is less than 10 dollars, or a gift card. Target offers refunds in the form of a merchandise return card (similar to a gift card). Kroger offers returns on gift cards for anything above 10 dollars; anything less than this amount is eligible for a cash refund.
Retailers may offer a variety of solutions for products without a receipt, so it is best to check each company’s policies before you try to make a return.
11. Quality guarantees make returning a breeze.
Clothing stores may have quality guarantees—in other words, if a purchase doesn’t match your expectations, you can return it with no questions asked. Places like Lululemon have a “Quality Promise,” where you can return products that don’t perform as expected (for example, the leggings pill or a seam rips). For children’s clothing, check out Target brand Cat & Jack, which offers a 1-year guarantee. To help make returns hassle-free, always check out the store’s guarantees.
12. Return unwanted gifts for something better.
If you receive a gift that just isn’t you, don’t feel bad for wanting to return it. Rather than feeling obligated to hold onto an unsuitable gift, replace it with something you will enjoy. Remember, there will usually be a longer return window if you received this gift around the holidays (see our first tip).
If the present came with a gift receipt, it should be easy to walk into the store and get a refund, exchange, or store credit. However, if you don’t have a gift receipt, you should still take the item back to the store and see what they can do for you at customer service. Remember to approach the customer service reps with kindness, as that may make them more inclined to find a solution for you.