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Best and worst return policies for the gifts you don’t want to keep

Every year, millions of gifts exchange hands to the delight of adults and kids around the globe. But not everybody gets what they want for the holiday, and this leads to several returns the day after Christmas, as well as the weeks that follow.

It can be easy to pick up the wrong gift for someone, so there’s no need to feel bad about it. People are busy, and not everyone knows each other well enough to find the perfect present in time for Dec. 25. Tap or click to see the most popular gifts on Amazon this year.

But when the time comes to make a return, you’ll need to know the ins and outs of each stores’ return policies. Every store has different nuances to their policies, with dates and conditions varying widely. We’ll show you how to successfully return unwanted gifts no matter where they originally came from.

What’s in a return?

To prevent abuse from greedy or fraudulent customers, every retailer sets return policies that outline the terms and conditions. This usually sets the dates you’re allowed to make a return, what the store requires to accept the return and limits to the condition of the product.

Related: 10 ways you must secure your new holiday tech

Before attempting to return any product, look through the checklist below and make sure the item you’re trying to bring back qualifies. Missing information like a receipt or bringing an open box can disqualify you from returns, or at the very least limit you to in-store credit instead of a full refund.

  • Keep the receipt. A smart gift-giver always includes a receipt with their present, and most stores offer gift receipts. If the gift you want to return doesn’t have one, you may want to contact whoever gifted it to you.
  • Don’t open the box. Open box returns are not accepted by many retailers, and if they are, you’re usually limited to in-store credit. Some may even charge you a fee if you have an open or absent box. Don’t be caught without one!
  • Bring your ID. The cashier may ask you to identify yourself when presenting a return. This is meant to keep shoppers accountable and help prevent abusive customers from taking advantage of lax return policies. Having your ID on hand can save you and the cashier time — and during the holidays, nothing is more important.
  • Call ahead. This can help prevent you from being caught off-guard by tricky or complex return policies. When you call, ask the operator to detail the return policy and tell them upfront what you’re trying to do. This can help set your expectations, as well as prepare the store’s employees for another return ahead of time.
  • When all else fails, negotiate. Though some stores have iron-clad return policies, politely requesting a compromise from the employee or manager can sometimes mean the difference between store credit or a wasted trip to the mall. If your product doesn’t qualify for a full refund, ask the employee if they’ll consider store credit or a gift card as a courtesy. And whatever you do, make sure to be polite. Employees are already under loads of stress from the season, and kindness will go a long way.

Which stores have the best and worst return policies?

To help you navigate the seas of shoppers doing returns, we’ll be going over some of the specific policies from individual stores. According to Consumer Reports, many of the more flexible outlets have generous time limits and condition requirements. As for the others, we’ll let you be the judge.

The stores with the best return policies

Nordstrom: All returns are handled on a case-by-case basis, and no receipts are required. You don’t even need the original tags and there’s no time limit to speak of. Items just need to be in good condition and still sold by the retailer for your best chance.

L.L.Bean: Customers have one year after purchasing to return return any item, so long as you have your receipt handy. Returned gifts will be exchanged for store credit.

Bed Bath & Beyond: Returns are accepted up to one year from the date of purchase. If you don’t have a receipt or gift receipt, an employee can look up purchases made in the last year. If the item cannot be found, you’ll qualify for a store credit at the item’s current price minus 20%. 

Costco: No time limit or receipt required unless the items are electronics, tires or batteries.

JCPenney: If you have a receipt, you can return or exchange your items at any time unless they’re appliances, furniture, fine jewelry or electronics. These require original tags and packaging, and gift receipts will qualify you for store credit.

Eddie Bauer: If you have a receipt, you can get a refund with no time limit. Without a receipt, you’re limited to store credit.

Harry & David: No formal return policy. All it says is the following: “You and those who receive your gifts must be delighted, or we’ll make it right with either an appropriate replacement or refund. Always. Everything’s guaranteed. No cutting corners. No fudging on quality. No excuses.”

Lands’ End: Just like with the above retailer, its policy is open-ended. “Guaranteed. Period. If you’re not satisfied with any item, simply return it to us at any time for an exchange or refund of its original price.” 

Kohl’s: No time limit for returns with the exclusion of premium electronics. You only have 30 days for electronics, but extended return dates may apply for items purchased after Nov. 1.

The stores with the worst return policies

Forever 21: All returns must be made within 30 days for online and in-store purchases. The bankrupted retailer requires you to have the original receipt or a gift receipt to qualify. You’ll need the invoice order for online orders.

Kmart: You have 30 days for any return with a receipt. With a gift receipt, you’ll get an exchange or store credit.

Sears: All returns must be made within 30 days and with a receipt. With a gift receipt, you’ll get an exchange or a gift card.

Barnes & Noble: For online orders, you have 14 days from the date you received the item. Refunds and returns are processed only when an item is received and you’ll have to pay for shipping when mailing a returned item. With a gift receipt, you have 60 days.

GameStop: A receipt is always required — no exceptions! You’ll have 30 days for a refund or exchange for unopened items, and only seven days for pre-owned items and select tablets. Opened items only qualify for an identical exchange within 30 days. 

Apple: This one is a doozy. Apple gives you only 14 days for a refund of your item — regardless of whether it was purchased online or in-store. If the item costs more than $750, you’ll have to wait up to 10 days for a refund check to be mailed to you. Purchases from authorized Apple retailers will not be accepted.

What about the big-box retailers?

Thanks to their killer discounts, scores of people purchased gifts from the nation’s biggest retailers this year. Here are their return policies and rules.

Amazon: Amazon always gives customers 30 days for returns throughout the year. During the holidays, it’s extended until Jan. 31, 2020 for items purchased after Nov. 1 up till the end of the year.

Target: Items from Target’s own in-house brands enjoy a one-year return window. Other products have a 90-day return window, as long as they’re in good condition. You’ll get a bonus 30 days if you purchased with Target’s RedCard.

Walmart: Most items can be returned with in a 14, 30, or 90-day period, depending on what it is. For gifts purchased through Dec. 25, 2019, these limits are extended. Items in the 14-day window have until Jan. 10, 2020. Items in the 30-day window have until Jan. 25, 2020. Items in the 90-day window are unchanged.

Best Buy: Most standard products have a 15-day window from the date of purchase or date the order was received. Cell phones, tablets and wearable gadgets are excluded, and only have a 14-day window. Best Buy Elite and Elite Plus members get extensions up to 30 days and 45 days, respectively.

If you know what to expect, your return experience should be a breeze. Just make sure to know the specifics before you step foot into a store. Happy shopping!

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