What You Should Know About Holiday Returns

Now that the season of giving is officially over, people are no doubt scrambling to return gifts they could easily do without. As hard as our loved ones may try, they don’t always get it right. That leaves us happy to return unwanted merchandise received during the holidays in hopes of getting a refund for it. But beware, it may not be as easy this year to get that refund you were hoping for.

Most returns for the retail industry occur during the holidays, where according to the National Retail Federation, for every $1 billion in sales, $165 million in merchandise is returned. Retailers lose a lot of money during this time of the year, and with many stores scaling back on their COVID-19 policies, which expanded return windows, they are also scaling back on outright refunds. So, before you go to return an item, hoping for a refund, here are some things you should keep in mind.

Review The Store’s Return Policy

Holiday returns have hit many stores in the past. It’s costing them more money now than ever before. The only way for them to lighten that punch is to encourage as few returns as possible. Given that, retailers have put together a host of do’s and don’ts affiliated with their return policies—from applying fees for online returns to having to show ID to return an item. While many returns occur the day after Christmas, the first week of the year will keep retailers in arms as the returns come in at a steady pace. If you plan on standing in a customer service line to return merchandise from the holidays, here are some of the policies to be mindful of.

Always Keep Gift Receipts

It goes without saying that it’s never a bad idea to have the gift receipt with you when you go to return an item. Since stores want to encourage as few returns as possible, it would be easy for them to refuse the item if there is no receipt to show it was paid for. You may not need a receipt at all stores; that’s why it helps to know the store’s policy before you go to return.

Know if Online Purchases Can be Returned In-Store

Don’t be surprised if you have to pay a fee to return online items. That’s because stores try to recoup their losses as much as possible. When online items have to be returned, someone has to pay the cost to process, ship, and restock those returned items. It’s no wonder they want you to pay a piece of that for the hundreds of items they know will be returned. To avoid being hit with some of these fees yourself, check with a store near you to see if they’ll accept your returned item in-store. If they do, that could save you some costs. Some stores, like Nordstrom and Dick’s Sporting Goods, will even offer free curbside returns.

Return Within The Return Window

Also, know the store’s return window. Many stores have a designated time frame for returns; if you miss the deadline, you’re stuck with your gift. Some stores, like Bath&Body Works, will allow you to return holiday gifts whenever you want; there is no return window. Some stores, like Kohl’s, may allow you to return within 180 days. Still, other stores may allow you 60 or 90 days to return, like Ulta Beauty (60 days), Walmart, Target, and Macy’s (90 days). But some stores, like Sephora and Victoria’s Secret, will only allow you 30 days to decide whether or not you want to keep that gift.

Don’t Open Anything That You’ll Return

Again, to make the return as easy as possible, it’s always likely to get a refund for an item that was never used. Some gifts are easy to identify even before they’re opened. If you receive a gift that you know you won’t want to keep, don’t open it. Rather than open it, thank the gifter for the gift with the assurance they shouldn’t have. Put the gift to the side—unopened, and make a mad dash to return it within the return window.

Bring Your ID

Did you know Best Buy requires a government-issued ID and a return receipt? This policy may not be in many stores, but it’s always good to have some form of ID just in case it’s required during the return.

Expect The Refund to Take Longer Than Usual

This year, stores expect the number of returns to be at an all-time high, with 33% of adults making returns. If you’re dealing with online returns and have to return by mail, don’t be surprised if it takes a while to get your refund. I’m sure it will come, but be a little patient as retailers deal with all the madness that’s coming from returns at the top of the year. Be sure to track your item to keep an eye on its status.

The Bottom Line

While not all stores will make returning merchandise difficult, it pays to know the store policies in advance. That way, you’ll avoid disappointment, embarrassment, and wasted time. Get ahead of all of that by being informed. It may take a little time to do, but it’s worth researching return policies for any store you’ll need to visit for returns.

Read More: