There is good news if you’re making a return Monday or soon thereafter: Retailers are in a mood to please.
Even without a receipt, consumers are likely to find retailers that want lines to move quickly and have customers leaving the returns desk happy.
“Retailers want the least amount of friction,” said Sandy Stein, a Twin Cities-based retail consultant. “They’re trying to facilitate the most number of people in the shortest amount of time.”
About 1 out of 10 gifts are expected to be returned, according to the National Retail Federation.
While the knock on retailers for many years was that they were slowly tightening return policies, the annual review by Consumer World, the news site started by consumer lawyer Ed Dworsky, found that return policies held steady or improved this year.
Return policies at brick-and-mortar stores are leaning toward becoming more friendly to remain competitive, said Marshal Cohen, a retail analyst with the NPD Group. For example, Target Corp. last year extended its return policy on its private label brands to one year.
Some of the most consumer friendly return policies include Costco, Sam’s Club, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Herberger’s, Von Maur, Nordstrom, Penney’s, L.L. Bean, Lands’ End and Bed Bath & Beyond. Apparel stores usually can be counted on to offer the most generous return policies but warehouse clubs such as Costco and Sam’s Club don’t specify a time limit for returns on most items, except for electronics and a few other things.
Target and Best Buy have relatively short return periods but each provide additional return time to rewards customers. Target purchases made on a REDcard get an extra 30 days for returns, except for electronics. Best Buy adds more time for its Elite members too.
Amazon.com, the biggest online retailer, possesses stellar ratings for customer service but has a fairly restrictive return policy of 30 days. Items shipped by Amazon between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 can be returned until Jan. 31.
Many online merchants, such as ShopRunner and PayPal, now offer free return shipping.
Dworsky suggests that consumers who don’t have a receipt can ask the merchant to look it up if the item was charged. Macy’s, Target and Menards can look up receipts if you can identify which credit card was used. This also is true of many small retailers. Those paying cash are out of luck at most retailers. Returns without a receipt may result in a credit at an item’s lowest, recent selling price.
It pays to know the rules. Wal-Mart allows shoppers to make up to three returns without receipts within a 45-day period. Toys ‘R’ Us has an unstated policy that items purchased from Sept. 1 onward may be returned until Jan. 28. Video game hardware, cameras, music players, netbooks and e-readers must have been purchased after Oct. 31 for returns until Jan. 28.
Retailers are not required to accept returns, according to the Better Business Bureau. An “all sales final” is acceptable if the retailer has prominently posted the policy on receipts or on signs in the store. Finally, consumers who find an item to be defective may ask for a replacement or store credit.