Expanded Return Periods Continue in 2021

Disappointed woman opening an online purchase
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Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on ConsumerWorld.org.

Based on its 18th annual return policy survey, ConsumerWorld.org reports that some prominent retailers continue to offer expanded return windows to give shoppers more time to return unwanted purchases, reflecting the fact that the holiday shopping season keeps starting earlier and earlier.

Extended holiday return deadlines allow gifts bought as early as Oct. 1 in some cases to be returned until mid- to late January, considerably beyond the normal deadline.

Two major chains, however, Walmart and Home Depot, reduced their return windows.

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 36,000 words and 75 pages of fine print.

Return policy changes for 2021

Noteworthy changes and novel return policies for 2021 include:

  • Amazon continued its expanded holiday return window by allowing returns of most items shipped starting Oct. 1 to be sent back as late as Jan. 31. It now allows 30 days return for opened TVs. And it more than tripled its mattress return period from 30 to 100 days. Some products — such as groceries, pet food, plants, opened mattresses and some other items — are refundable but do not have to be returned.
  • Home Depot, which had doubled its regular return period to 180 days for most items in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, restored it to 90 days. It continues its policy of allowing one year to return purchases made using the Home Depot credit card.
  • T.J. Maxx and Marshalls continue their policy to add 30 extra days for returns should a store be required to close because of COVID-19.
  • Walmart shortened its return window by two weeks, starting the holiday return period as of Nov. 1 instead of Oct. 16 as it did in 2020.
  • Staples expanded its return window by three weeks, accepting returns until Jan. 24 for items purchased since Nov. 8.
  • Target continues to offer a one-year return period for house-branded items.

“Many major retailers continue to recognize the longer holiday shopping season and are giving customers more time to make returns. But at the same time, a few have cut back on their previously more generous policies,” 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. 1 through Dec.31. Some returns subject to a restocking fee. Some returns free at Kohl’s, Whole Foods and other drop-off locations..
Bed Bath & Beyond 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 electrics. If there is no receipt and it is not findable, a 20% fee is deducted from the refund for customer’s presumed coupon use.
Best Buy Jan. 16 for most purchases made between Oct. 18 and Jan. 2. Elite members generally get more time. Some restocking fees.
Costco No deadline, but 90 days for: TVs, computers, cameras, smart watches, MP3 players, cellphones, monitors, major appliances, etc.
Home Depot 90-day deadline most items. Only two to 30 days for some items.
Kohl’s 180-day deadline, but premium electronics bought Nov. 1 to Dec. 25 returnable until Jan. 31.
Macy’s 90-day deadline for most returns. Holiday return deadline of Jan. 31 for most items purchased Oct. 5 or later, but seven exceptions apply. Free mail returns for online orders.
Marshalls Jan. 25 for purchases Oct. 10 to Dec. 25. This retailer posts clear in-store signs about their extended holiday return policy every year — a rarity among retailers. If stores are closed, 30-day extension to return goods after reopening.
Staples No deadline for office supplies. Jan. 24 for electronics and furniture bought since Nov. 8.
T.J. Maxx Jan. 25 for purchases Oct. 10 to Dec. 25. This retailer posts clear in-store signs about their extended holiday return policy every year — a rarity among retailers. If stores are closed, 30-day extension to return goods after reopening.
Target 90 days most items. 30 days for electronics and entertainment items, 15 days for most Apple items, 14 days for cellphones. Days begin Dec. 26 for these non-90-day items bought since Oct. 1. RedCard holders get 30 extra days.
Walmart 90 days most items. For the following purchases made from Nov. 1 onward, 30 days (most electronics), and 14 days for cellphones, but count days starting Dec. 26. 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.
  • 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.

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