Guide to Returning Gifts: Retailers With the Best and Worst Policies

Some stores will let you return anything, even without a receipt. Others have time limits and restocking fees.

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If you believe it’s the thought that counts, then you won’t be offended if the recipient of a present you've given can't use it for whatever reason. And if you're given something that isn't quite the right fit for you, you shouldn't feel guilty about returning or exchanging it for something different.

Some retailers have flexible return and exchange policies all year long, and others are a bit more strict. But many retailers often extend their return windows around the holidays, especially this year. With COVID-related shipping delays creating problems, most stores are offering more generous return guidelines for holiday purchases.

According to the 2020 Deloitte holiday retail survey, only 32 percent of shoppers consider return policies when buying gifts. But it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the options. Below, we've outlined the guidelines at most popular retailers.

Here are retailers with the best and worst policies:

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Best for Returning Gifts

You have 30 days to return any new, unopened items. The company provides shipping labels for mail-in returns, or you can take items to any of the company's over 18,000 drop-off locations. This includes Amazon Lockers, which can often be found at Whole Foods and Walmart, as well as UPS stores and Kohl's.

For the holiday season, Amazon is extending its return window. Most items purchased between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 can be returned up until Jan. 31, 2021.

Items purchased through third-party sellers may be subject to different return policies.

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Bed Bath & Beyond
In July 2018 the company changed its return policy, though it's still generous.

Previously, you could return items with no time limit (with a few exceptions). But now you have only one year from date of purchase. Shipping on returns is still free.

No gift receipt? An employee will look up purchases made in the last year. If the item can’t be found, you can get a refund for store credit at its current price, minus 20 percent.

And due to COVID restrictions, Bed Bath & Beyond is only accepting in-store returns in locations open to the public, excluding any curbside-only stores.

There's no time limit on returns and no receipt necessary, except for a few items, including tires, batteries, cigarettes, and alcohol. Electronics, including computers, TVs, major appliances, cameras, tablets, and more can still be returned, but there's a 90-day window that starts from the date the item is received.

Eddie Bauer. Eddie Bauer used to allow returns anytime, but now it honors returns only for one year after purchase. With a receipt, you can make an exchange or get a refund. Without a receipt, you're eligible for a gift card worth 50 percent of the original sale price. Returns can be made in-store or via the mail (the company will provide a shipping label) whether the item was purchased online or in person.

Home Depot
Most items are eligible for returns for up to 180 days after purchase. They must be new and unopened, and as long as you have proof of purchase, you can get a refund by the original payment method, in cash, or as store credit. If you don't have a receipt, try to make the return within 30 days and the company may be able to find your purchase in its system if you used a debit or credit card for the transaction. You'll need to show ID to return items without a receipt.

If you use The Home Depot Consumer Credit Card, The Home Depot Commercial Revolving Charge, or The Home Depot Commercial Account, you have a full 365 days to make a return, and your purchase will be stored in the system for a year in case you lose your receipt.

Some items have shorter return windows. You get only 30 days to return area rugs, furniture, gas-powered equipment, and consumer electronics. The same time frame holds if your order arrives damaged or defective.

If you have a receipt, the company accepts returns and exchanges anytime, except for appliances, furniture, fine jewelry, and electronics. Formal dresses and electronics require original tags or packaging. If you have a gift receipt, you can exchange an item or get a gift card at the receipt price. If you don't have a receipt, JCPenney will allow you to exchange the item or get a refund as store credit for the lowest price the item was in the previous 45 days, and you'll need to show ID.

Its "hassle free" return policy gives shoppers up to 180 days for returns of all purchases. No receipt? The store can look up previous purchases. For the holidays, just note that premium electronics must be returned within 30 days in original packaging, though if purchased Nov. 1 through Dec. 25, you have until Jan. 31, 2021, to return them.

Due to COVID-related store closures, Kohl's is extending the 180-day policy to include a 30-day window when stores reopen. In-store purchases must be returned in-store, but online orders can be mailed back.

In February 2018 the company changed its return policy. Though it used to allow customers to exchange or return an item even years after purchasing it, customers now have one year after, accompanied by proof of purchase. Because of COVID-related delays, the company says mail-in returns can take as long as three to four weeks to process.

If you need to make a return after one year, L.L.Bean will work with you to reach a fair solution if a product was defective in any way. For returned gifts, you'll get a merchandise credit if you don't want to make an exchange. Items purchased before Feb. 9, 2018, are grandfathered in and can still be returned at any time.

Lands' End
The retailer's return policy is flexible. For returns made within 90 days of purchase, a full refund will be issued by the original payment method. If there's no receipt and no other proof of purchase, you may still be eligible for a partial refund at Lands' End's discretion.

Most items can be returned up to 90 days after purchase. As long as you have proof of purchase, Lowe's will refund in cash, by the original payment method, or as store credit. If you lose your receipt, the store may have record of the purchase in its system with the original credit card, checking account number, MyLowe's card, or phone number. When no record of a purchase can be found, Lowe's may still be able to provide in-store credit for the current selling price. You'll need to show ID for returns without proof of purchase.

Some items can only be returned within 30 days and must be in "like new" condition. This includes TVs, major appliances, liquid paint, and outdoor power equipment. If you receive an item that's damaged or defective, you have only three days to contact the company to document it.

You have 90 days to return most items purchased at Macy's. It's free to return a purchase whether in-store or by mail. Shipping costs for a purchase are nonrefundable, and items must be new, unused, and with original tags. Some items have shorter return windows, such as Apple products, which can only be returned within 14 days.

There's no formal return policy; returns are handled case by case. No receipts are required, there are no time limits, and no original tags needed (except for special occasion dresses). Returns made by mail and in-store can take five to seven days to process; mail-in returns can take up to two weeks.

If you want a refund, there's no time limit. Its policy states: "If you aren't happy with a product or service, we want to know about it. And we'll make it right." With a receipt, you're eligible for a full refund. Without a receipt, Orvis will provide a gift card valued at the lowest price for the item in the last 90 days.

You have up to 90 days to return most items at Target (30 days for most electronics and 15 days for Apple products). The retailer provides free shipping on returns, and you can bring your items to any location as well. The company may honor returns on items that have been opened, damaged, or don't have a receipt, but it doesn't guarantee this. If you have a Target Red Card, the return window is extended an additional 30 days.

For the holidays, the 30-day return window (15 days for Apple products) begins Dec. 26 for electronics and entertainment items purchased between Oct. 1 and Dec. 25.

For most items, Walmart offers a 90-day return window. Electronics get 30 days, and post-paid cell phones have only a 14-day window. Walmart's 30-day window for returns on tech purchased between Oct. 16 and Dec. 25 begins Dec. 26. The retailer provides free returns regardless of whether you're returning in-store or by mail, and also offers pickup services, though freight charges for large items are nonrefundable.

This online-only retailer promises free returns on all U.S. orders for up to a year as long as the items are unworn and returned in their original packaging, with original tags still in place. Return shipping is free, and the company also allows for exchanges.

Tough for Returning Gifts

Apple gives you just 14 days to return an item or get a refund, whether it's purchased online or in a store. And you can't return something if you didn't buy it directly from an Apple Store or Apple online.

Items purchased online between Nov. 10 and Dec. 25 may be returned through Jan. 8, 2021.

Barnes & Noble
For online and in-store purchases, you have 30 days from the date you received the item to get a return, but you'll need a receipt or invoice. If mailing back your items, refunds and returns are processed only once an item is received, and you pay for shipping. In-store returns are welcome regardless of purchase method. With a gift receipt, you have 60 days to return.

B&N is extending its return window for the holidays. Purchases made Nov. 1 through Dec. 31 are refundable or exchangeable through Jan. 31, 2021.

Best Buy
The electronics retailer has a meager 15-day window for returning most items. Cell phones and cellular tablets and watches get 14 days. The store requires proof of purchase and has a 15 percent restocking fee on certain items, including drones and some digital cameras and lenses, if the original packaging has been opened.

Its holiday return policy is more generous. Items (except major appliances and holiday products) bought between Oct. 13, 2020, and Jan. 2, 2021, can be returned through Jan. 16, 2021. If you're a My Best Buy Elite member, you have 30 days to return anything purchased after Dec. 18; Elite Plus members get 45 days.

Forever 21
You typically must make returns within 30 days of purchase online or in-store to get an exchange or a refund. But because of COVID-related store closures, the policy has been temporarily extended to 60 days.

You must have the original receipt or a gift receipt for returns of in-store purchases, and items must be unworn and unwashed, and have the original tags attached.

GameStop. A receipt is always required. You get 30 days for a refund or exchange of unopened products, but only seven days for pre-owned products and tablets. For merchandise that's been opened, you can only get an identical exchange within 30 days.

Due to an increased volume of sales and returns, the company states on its website that refunds processed online can take up to three weeks.

You have 30 days for returns with a receipt. With a gift receipt, you can exchange an item or get store credit. If you're a member of the free Shop Your Way program, you'll have 45 days to request a refund or exchange. Seasonal holiday items can't be returned once the holiday has passed, and there are no extended return windows for holiday gifts.

This online seller of electronics and other products guarantees a refund on most items returned new and unopened within 30 days of purchase. It refunds 100 percent of the purchase price of items returned within 30 days, but only if they're defective or unopened.

Opened items qualify for just 85 percent of the purchase price. For opened notebooks and desktop PCs, tablets, and TVs, that goes down to 75 percent. You may also have to pay a restocking fee of 15 to 30 percent.

For the holidays, it has extended its return window until Jan. 31, 2021.

As with Kmart, which merged with Sears in 2004, returns must be made within 30 days and with a receipt. With a gift receipt, you can exchange an item or get a gift card. If you're a member of the free Shop Your Way program, you have 45 days for a refund or exchange.

Most items can be returned within 30 days, provided they're unopened and in the original condition. There are some exclusions, including clearance items, bundled items (unless you're returning everything in the bundle), and Open Box items. But if you received a damaged or defective item, the exclusions don't apply. Mattresses come with a 100-night guarantee, and Wayfair typically provides return pickups for large items. (But it's currently unavailable in some areas due to COVID restrictions.)

For the holidays, purchases made between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 can be returned until Jan. 31, 2021.

4 Tips for Returning Gifts

Don’t open the box. If you try to return an item and the original packaging isn’t intact, merchants may impose a restocking fee (often 15 percent of the purchase price or more). That's especially common for electronics.

Other products, such as computer software, CDs, and DVDs, generally aren't returnable once their packaging has been opened, unless they're defective. And if products are missing tags, you may be stuck with them.

Keep those gift receipts. Make sure you don't toss them out with the wrapping paper, because merchants often turn you away if you don't have one. If you didn't get a gift receipt (and you don't want to ask the giver for the original), you may be eligible for store credit, though it may be in the amount of the lowest price the item sold for recently.

Check return policies and note any time limits. You can do that most easily online, or you can ask at a store's customer-service counter. Big merchants usually allow up to 90 days for most items to be returned, but they may have far shorter periods for certain goods. During the holidays, however, some retailers will extend their deadlines, often until late January.

For items purchased online, note whether the merchant also has walk-in store locations and allows in-person returns. That way, you can avoid repacking the item and going to the post office, as well as paying return shipping costs.

It's also important to check whether you've purchased an item from a third-party seller, because they may have different return policies than the retailer. This includes retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, eBay, and Newegg.

Bring ID. Some chains, including Best Buy and Victoria's Secret, use computerized return-authorization systems to detect abuse. So you may be asked to show your driver's license or other government-issued ID when you return an item in person.

Merchants scan and store data from your ID to track your history, noting such factors as the frequency of your returns, their dollar value, how often you return items without a receipt, and the time between returns.

Editor's Note: This article, adapted from articles in the December 2016 and December 2017 issues of Consumer Reports magazine, has been updated for the 2020 holiday season.