Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on ConsumerWorld.org.

Despite media reports of some fashion retailers adding new fees for online customer returns this holiday season, the dozen mass merchandisers and retail chains in Consumer World’s 19th annual return policy survey did not do so, and most still offer completely free returns.

A number of large retailers, however, did provide shoppers with a slightly shorter window during which to make purchases that qualify for an extended holiday return period.

Extended holiday return policies, such as in Walmart’s case, allow gifts bought as early as Oct. 1 to be returned until mid- to late January, considerably beyond the normal deadline.

What hasn’t changed is the complexity of stores’ return policies that are designed in part to reduce return fraud. The combined policies for the dozen chains surveyed amount to over 35,000 words and 79 pages of fine print.

Return policy changes for 2022

Noteworthy changes and novel return policies for 2022 include:

  • Amazon delayed starting its holiday return policy by 10 days allowing returns of most items purchased starting Oct. 11 to be sent back as late as Jan. 31. Some products such as pet food, groceries, plants, opened mattresses, and other items are refundable but may not have to be returned. Restocking fees apply in limited cases.
  • Walmart started its holiday return policy a month earlier than in 2021.
  • Best Buy delayed its holiday return policy by about a week. It eliminated two of three member categories for extra time to make returns.
  • Kohl’s introduced self-service return kiosks in-store to help avoid lines.
  • Home Depot continues its novel policy of allowing one year to return purchases made using the Home Depot credit card.
  • T.J. Maxx and Marshalls will accept online returns bought Oct. 9 through Dec. 25 until Feb. 3 — about a week later than usual.
  • Staples shortened its purchase window by five days, accepting returns until Jan. 23 for items purchased since Nov. 13.
  • Target continues to offer a one-year return period for house-branded items. Its purchase window was shortened by five days to Oct. 6.

“Many major retailers continue to recognize the longer holiday shopping season and give customers more time to make returns. And while some companies have begun imposing return fees, the dozen big retailers in our survey held the line with no new or increased fees and the vast majority still provide free returns in person and by mail,” said Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumer World, a leading consumer education website.

Generous return policies

Summarized below are some chains with generous regular or holiday return deadlines for purchases made in their brick-and-mortar locations, unless otherwise stated:

Amazon.com
Jan. 31 for most items shipped Oct. 11 through Dec. 31. Some returns have restocking fees. Most returns free using drop-off locations. Fees for mailed change-of-mind returns.

Bed Bath & Beyond
A 90-day return period for most items; 30 days for smart tech (but Jan. 31 for those items purchased Nov. 15 onward); 30 days for seasonal; 60 days for electronics. If there is no receipt and it is not findable, a 20% fee is deducted from the refund for customer’s presumed coupon use. Free return shipping.

Best Buy
Jan. 14 for most purchases made between Oct. 24-Dec. 31. Totaltech members generally get more time. Some restocking fees. Free returns with their label.

Costco
No deadline, but 90 days for: TVs, computers, cameras, smartwatches, MP3 players, cellphones, monitors, major appliances, etc. Free returns for Costco.com purchases.

Home Depot
A 90-day deadline for most items, but 30 days for furniture, area rugs, gas-powered equipment, most generators and consumer electronics. Free returns.

Kohl’s
A 180-day deadline, but electronics, watches and Sephora products bought after Nov. 1 are returnable until Jan. 31. No free shipping.

Macy’s
A 90-day deadline for most returns. The holiday return deadline is extended to Jan. 31 for most items purchased Oct. 3 or later, but seven conditions apply. These include that Apple products bought Dec. 3-24 are returnable until Jan. 8. Free mail returns for Macys.com orders.

Marshalls
Jan. 25 for purchases in stores from Oct. 9-Dec. 24; Feb. 3 for purchases online from Oct. 9-Dec. 25. These retailers post clear in-store signs about their extended holiday return policy every year — a rarity. A $10.99 fee is deducted for postage/handling for online mailed returns.

Staples
No deadline for returns of office supplies. Expanded holiday deadline is Jan. 23 for electronics and furniture bought from Nov. 13-Dec. 24. Free online returns.

T.J. Maxx
Jan. 25 for purchases in stores from Oct. 9-Dec. 24; Feb. 3 for purchases online from Oct. 9-Dec. 25. These retailers post clear in-store signs about their extended holiday return policy every year — a rarity. A $10.99 fee is deducted for postage/handling for online mailed returns.

Target
For most items, 90 days. For purchases of the following items from Oct. 6-Dec. 25: electronics and entertainment, 30 days starting Dec. 26-Jan. 24; all Apple products (excluding mobile phones), 15 days starting Dec. 26-Jan. 9; and mobile phones, 14 days starting Dec. 26-Jan. 8. RedCard holders get 30 extra days. Free mail returns.

Walmart
Most items purchased from Oct. 1-Dec. 31 are returnable until Jan. 31. Free mail returns for online purchases.

Location can affect return policies

Return policy law varies from state to state.

Generally, a store can set up any return policy it wants, whether it is “all sales final,” “merchandise credit only” or “all returns in 30 days.”

Many states require the policy to be clearly disclosed to the buyer prior to purchase, usually by means of a conspicuous sign. Some states do not consider a disclosure that only appears on the sales receipt to meet this requirement.

It is not unreasonable, however, to require customers to provide a sales slip or gift receipt to establish where and when the item was purchased, and at what price. Those with a gift receipt will generally only receive an even exchange or store credit, not cash.

Tips for hassle-free returns

Here’s Consumer World’s advice for making returns as easy as possible:

  • Don’t fight the crowds on the return lines the day after Christmas. Go back a day or two later, or better yet, see if the store provides free returns by mail.
  • To improve your chances of getting full credit, provide a sales slip or gift receipt and return the item in new condition, unopened and with all packaging material. Returns without a receipt are subject to the posted return policy, which might result in you receiving only a merchandise credit for the lowest price the item has sold for recently — or possibly no refund or exchange at all.
  • Check if online purchases are subject to any return fees. If possible, return those purchases to a retailer’s brick-and-mortar location or free drop-off spots to avoid those charges and/or the cost of postage.
  • Know that if the item to be returned is defective, some states, such as Massachusetts, require the store to give the consumer his/her choice of one of the three “R’s” — repair, replacement or refund — irrespective of the store’s posted return policy.
  • Consumers who have a problem returning a gift should first contact the store manager or customer service department of the retailer. If a satisfactory resolution is not obtained, then a complaint can be filed with the state attorney general’s office or local consumer agency.

Stacy Johnson

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