A Guide to Retailer Return Policies

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NEW YORK (MainStreet) - According the National Retail Federation (NRF), return fraud this holiday season is expected to increase by 34%, with retailers projected to lose an estimated $3.68 billion to customers’ dirty dealings.

While this may sound like bad news for retailers, it's also bad news for consumers who now face more stringent return policies as they try to exchange unwanted holiday gifts. To let you know what you may be (literally) in store for, MainStreet rounded up the retailers with the trickiest return policies.

Best Buy

The electronics retailer allows purchases made between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 to be returned through Jan. 31, 2011. While this appears to be an extension of the retailer’s standard policy, which requires that most purchases be returned 30 days after the purchase to be eligible for a cash refund, it's full of exclusions. Desktop notebooks, netbooks and tablet computers, for example, still must be returned either 14 days from the date they were purchased in-store or 14 days from the date they were received if they were ordered online. Those who return online purchases are responsible for shipping costs.

You also can't return phone cards, iTunes prepaid music cards, Napster gift cards, consumable items such as food, drinks and batteries or items that have been damaged or abused. No refunds are made on labor or installation services and any opened, defective computer software, movies, music and video games can only be exchanged for the identical item. Those who need help sorting through the exemptions in Best Buy's holiday return policy may call 1-888-237-8289.

Amazon.com

Similarly to Best Buy, Amazon is allowing purchases shipped between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 to be returned until Jan. 31, 2011, for a full refund. However, most electronics, including unopened computers, cameras and televisions, must be returned within 30 days of delivery to receive a cash refund.

Jewelry is even trickier to return. The online retailer requires that watches and jewelry with a value of $75 or more must be returned using a trackable shipping method and any similar item more than $500 must be insured by the consumer before they send it back. Additionally, all fine jewelry must be returned in new, unworn condition, and will undergo quality checks. Any item that has been resized, damaged or otherwise altered after delivery will not be accepted for return.

Amazon will pay shipping costs only on its own mistakes; all other shipping fees are the responsibility of the consumer. Check the Amazon website for more specifics on what you can and cannot return.

Target

The superstore chain allows items to be returned within 90 days of purchase or delivery date if a receipt is presented upon exchange. Target can also verify purchases made on a credit card, debit card, check or Target Gift Card by looking it up in the retailer’s computer system.
While there aren't a lot of exemptions to this rule, there are a number of caveats. For example, any holiday and seasonal merchandise on clearance at the time of return will be refunded at the current clearance price. In fact, according to Target, the refunded value for each item returned will be reduced to reflect the value of any free gift or discount. Additionally, some products, including camcorders, digital cameras, portable DVD players and portable electronics, are subject to a 15% restocking fee.

Toys R Us

The chain totes a 90-day return policy for both online and in-store purchases, but the list of exemptions is rather long for a retailer that essentially sells toys. For example, video game systems, their games and accessories are only eligible for a cash refund 45 days after they were purchased. That policy also applies to computer software, VHS cassettes, DVDs, CDs, radio-control items, trading cards, other electronics and breast pumps.

Products must be returned in new or like-new condition, in its original packaging and you must present your itemized receipt to receive full credit. Any items returned with a gift receipt will receive store credit, not a cash refund. You can check here for the full terms of the Toys R Us  return policy.

JC Penney

The department store chain is another retailer whose laundry of exceptions seems to negate the advertised 90-day return window. Jewelry and electronics must be returned within 60 days of delivery or purchase date. Special order merchandise, such as made-to-measure window coverings or monogrammed products, cannot be returned unless a manufacturing error is detected. Perishable food items are subject to the same criteria. You can find the complete list of exemptions on the department store's website.

Similar to Toys R Us, gift receipts net a refund in store credit issued via a JC Penney gift card. Shipping costs on online returns must be paid by the consumer, unless the retailer delivered damaged goods.

Need more help negotiating store policies? Check out this MainStreet article for tips to mastering holiday returns!

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