Did Rube Goldberg write these return policies?

By | December 31st, 2015

Did you include “simpler return policies” in your letter to Santa Claus this year?

If so, you must have been naughty, because Kris Kringle didn’t deliver.

Stores have come up with highly complex policies for returns — so much so, according to Consumer World, that the combined policies of 12 well-known retailers cover 68 pages and total over 26,000 words.

One reason for the complexity is that stores “slice and dice” their return policies by the type of goods being returned. For example, returns of electronic goods, like computers, video game consoles and opened goods, may be subject to limits on the amount of time after the purchase that returns will be accepted. Or the stores may assess restocking fees, which reduce the customer’s net refund, or impose other limitations on refunds.

The stores with stricter policies appear to have adopted them in response to increases in retail fraud, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). NRF’s latest Return Fraud Survey estimates that 3.5 percent of their holiday returns this year will be fraudulent, which is expected to cost retailers $2.2 billion.

Some of these stricter policies include the following:


    • Sears has dropped its “30/60/90” day return policy and is now requiring that most items be returned within 30 days. Certain damaged goods must be reported within 72 hours to be eligible for a refund. Some open items can only be exchanged. There will be a 15 percent restocking fee for certain goods, such as furniture and electronics with missing parts.
    • Macy’s has return deadlines of 3 days for some furniture and 60 days for some mattresses. It will charge 15 percent restocking fees for some items.
    • Target requires returns and exchanges be made within a one-year period. However, it has set a 90-day deadline for electronic and entertainment items, beginning Dec. 26, that applies to any purchases made since Nov. 1. It may deny refunds for any open items or items without receipts.
    • Express “do not remove” tags and Bloomingdale’s “b-tags” on certain clothing must remain attached to be returned to deter “wardrobing” — buying items and then returning them after a one-time use.
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But some stores have generous return policies:

  • Kohl’s has no deadline at all.
  • Target will allow REDcard holders an additional 30 days.
  • Best Buy will also allow its Elite members additional time for returns.

Another source of complexity in store return policies is that different states have different applicable laws. 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,’ according to Consumer World.

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 notes. And many stores will require a sales slip or gift receipt to establish a returnable purchase.

So if you’re about to head to a brick-and-mortar store to return an unwanted or defective gift item, be sure to provide the store with your sales slip or gift receipt. If possible, return the item in new condition, unopened, and with all packaging material. Otherwise, be prepared for a refund offer from the store that comes less a restocking fee or is limited to a merchandise credit, or no refund at all.

And return the item as soon as possible, before return periods expire.

How difficult is it to return items to stores?

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