Returning holiday gifts can be a chore, but some stores make it easier than others

By HOWARD COHEN
Miami Herald
December 23. 2017 4:39PM
J.C. Penney shoppers at a mall in Newport News, Va., wait in line to make returns and exchanges and use their gift cards the day after a past Christmas. J.C. Penney accepts returns and exchanges without a receipt at any time, except for appliances, furniture, electronics and fine jewelry. (Newport News Daily Press/TNS)

One unwelcome byproduct of the holiday season is that at least one gift among Hanukkah's eight nights or Christmas will be as unpopular as the name Irma in South Florida.

You're bound to hate something you just unwrapped. Ugly. Misfit. Already got it.

Returning it, however, can be a pain.

According to a 2017 survey of holiday shoppers by the National Retail Federation, almost two-thirds said they made at least one return last holiday season.

But where best to make that return?

Consumer Reports Guide released its list of retailers that have a no-questions-asked returns policy. The consumer group also warns of others that apply strict rules that can make returning purchases irritating or even impossible.

Popular big-box stores Target and Walmart were not included in the survey results.

To make it easier on us, Consumer Reports suggests that these retailers are among the best in the business for returning gifts. (Mail order companies like L.L. Bean and Harry & David also scored well in this category.)

Bed Bath & Beyond: You can return the household item in-store or by mail with no time limit (except for baby and maternity clothes), and shipping is free. No gift receipt? An employee can look up purchases made in the past year. If the item can't be found, you can get a refund for a store credit at the item's current price, minus 20 percent.

Costco: No time limit on returns, except for appliances and electronics, which must go back within 90 days. No receipt necessary.

JCPenney: Accepts returns and exchanges without a receipt at any time, except for appliances, furniture, electronics and fine jewelry. Formal dresses and electronics require their original tags or packaging.

Kohl's: The department store chain's "no questions asked, hassle-free" return policy for all purchases has no time limit. No receipt? No problem. Just go to a customer-service counter with the item for an exchange or store credit equal to the lowest price the item sold for in the past 13 weeks. If you paid with your Kohl's charge card, any order within the past 12 months will get a credit to your account. Items bought with other credit cards or after the 12-month time frame will get you a store credit or a corporate-issued refund. One exception to returns: Premium electronics must be returned within 30 days in original packaging, though if purchased through Dec. 25, you have until Jan. 31, 2018, to return.

These retailers have less liberal return policies, most often requiring a receipt and affixing a shorter time limit, according to Consumer Reports.

Apple Store: Apple tries to convince you that you need a new iPhone before your current model gets out of the box, it seems. As rapidly as a new iOS update beckons, you have just 14 days to decide whether you're happy with your purchase. You must have a receipt to do an exchange or return. And you cannot return if you didn't buy it directly from an Apple Store or Apple online. Items purchased online between Nov. 15 and Dec. 25 may be returned through Jan. 8, 2018.

Barnes & Noble: The bookseller gives you two weeks to return items bought online or in-store if you want a refund. But the items must be unopened, with receipt. You pay for shipping if mailing a returned item. With a gift receipt, you have 60 days to return for a store credit or a B&N gift card. Purchases made Nov. 14 through Dec. 31 are refundable or exchangeable through Jan. 31, 2018.

Best Buy: The return policy for this huge electronics retailer says it wants to deliver the "convenience you deserve." But how this chain defines convenience probably isn't how you would define the word. Best Buy gives you a 15-day window for returning most items. The store requires proof of purchase and has a 15 percent restocking fee on certain items, including drones and some digital cameras and lenses. The company is a bit more charitable during the holiday season. Its return policy says items bought in November and December can be returned through Jan. 14, 2018.

Forever 21: Don't wait until you're 22 to decide you don't like that outfit. You must make your returns within 30 days of purchase online or in-store to get an exchange or a refund. If you return by mail, you'll pay for the shipping. For holiday purchases, gift items purchased online after Nov. 13 are valid for return through Jan. 7, 2018, or within 30 days from the shipping date - whichever comes later. Items must be unworn and unwashed, and have the original tags attached.

GameStop: You have 30 days for returns but just seven days for returns of pre-owned items. Receipts are required. With a gift receipt, items qualify only for exchanges or store credit.

Kmart: The chain allows 30 days for returns with a receipt. With a gift receipt, you can only exchange or get store credit. No refunds. Many items, including music, movies, software, and video games, are not eligible for return if their packages are opened. For holiday gifts, items bought from November through Dec. 24 can be returned through Jan. 31, 2018.

Sears: Returns must be made within 30 days and with a receipt. With a gift receipt, you get an exchange or a gift card. Some items, including consumer electronics, space heaters and grills, will have a 15 percent restocking fee if used and if they are not in their original packaging. For holiday returns, merchandise purchased from November through Dec. 24 can be returned through Jan. 31, 2018.


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