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Return season is here: Watch for shorter return windows, shipping fees

Stores tighten policies after pandemic
Best Secret Santa Gifts 2020
Posted at 6:27 AM, Dec 25, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-25 06:27:58-05

We're now entering the season for returns when you take back holiday gifts that didn't fit or work out.

But many retailers have toughened their return policies this year, with shorter windows and fees for shipping items back. So, with these shifting and changing policies — you could get hit with some surprising obstacles if you are not expecting them.

Delaney Corneilson did more of her holiday shopping in person this year than last year because she's noticed some online retailers now charge to make returns.

"I don't want to have to pay to take it back," she said, "and if I have to pay to take it back, I might as well not take it back."

But the added fees are just one thing making returns tougher this year. Shopper Michelle Cann is stressed about timing.

"It used to be 90 days; now it is 30 days for a lot of things, and it never used to be that way," she said.

Loose pandemic rules have tightened up

Samantha Gordon, deals editor at Consumer Reports, says stricter returns policies are coming back. They are replacing the laxer rules we got used to during the pandemic.

"The return windows aren't quite as long," she said, "and you may need to pay for shipping or pay a restocking fee."

She said the restocking fees, in particular, take many people off guard. But this time of year, there's a silver lining.

"For the holidays," she said, "a lot of retailers extend their return windows into January."

Best and worst return policies

Consumer Reports says you find some of the most prolonged return windows at:

  • Eddie Bauer
  • L.L. Bean
  • Kohl's

It says typically, the shortest return windows are at:

  • Electronics stores
  • Big box retailer electronics departments
  • Apple

"That's especially true at Apple and Best Buy, who only give you 14 to 15 days to make those returns," Gordon said.
Read Consumer Reports' complete list of best and worst return policies here.

So, how can you make the process painless? First, she says don't open the box if you know it will be going back.

"Do not remove any tags," Gordon said. "Try to not take things out of the original packaging."

Second, she says to make sure you keep those receipts. If you have a gift receipt, stores generally give you full store credit for what was paid.

Third, check return policies, noting any time limits, so you don't miss your return window.

Finally, if you damage the box, miss the window, or have a question, Gordon says, "Reach out to customer service, and they may be able to take you on a case-by-case basis."

Otherwise, Corneilson says you'll end up with a closet of unwanted gifts.

"And then I'll just keep it and not have any use for it," she said.

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