Now that you've unwrapped the gifts and given them the once-over, you're probably thinking about returning some of them to their points of purchase.
There are so many questions related to gift and holiday returns: How long do you have before returning items for a full refund? Do you need a receipt? Is there a fee for returning items? What can’t you return to the store or to an online retailer?
Returning items to a retailer isn’t as cut and dry as it used to be. Some retailers are getting testier about returns and if they aren’t outright charging a fee for returning items, they’re considering it. But many retailers are very generous with their holiday returns policies. That’s because it was an unusually early start to the holiday shopping season, with many retailers starting to push holiday purchases as early as the beginning of October and, as a result, loosening the return dates to late January.
Amazon kicked off the holiday shopping season in October, with its Prime Deal Days — essentially a second Amazon Prime Day in 2023. Other major retailers, including Walmart, Target and Costco, launched their Black Friday deals in early November, with many deals continuing through Cyber Monday.
Holiday returns policies
Return policies vary by store. Many retailers are offering extended returns, but only for certain purchases. Some stores may allow you to return items all the way through January, but only if you made the purchase in November.
Some stores allow you to make returns for items purchased from October up to December 24 — it really is just dependent on the store. And other retailers aren't offering special holiday policies at all, which means if you typically only have 30 days to return a product, and you bought it long ago, that return window will have passed. If your recipient doesn't like the gift, or it's a clothing item that may not fit, you may be out of luck trying to get a return.
How long do you have to return holiday items?
Most retailers are setting the deadline at January 31, but at least one goes into February. There are exceptions.
Obviously, the best move would have been to gauge the retailer’s return policy before you bought the gift and make sure you bought from a store with a long deadline. But maybe you received something as a gift and wish to return or exchange it.
Who has the best return policy?
Best: Costco and Bath & Body Works — you can return items at any time.
Runner-up: Target — RedCard holders get an extra 30 days on top of the already generous return policy.
Who has the worst return policy?
Their policy is on a case-by-case basis, which may sound generous because there aren't any time limits. However, the fact that it's judged case-by-case may mean you're out of luck since you'll be at the mercy of the store associate assisting you. Even if they have a sort of checklist and requirements to go by, that policy is open-ended which means you may or may not be able to return items you have no use for.
Holiday return policies and dates
Here’s our guide to key retailers and their return policies for the 2023 holidays:
- Amazon: Anything purchased from Nov. 1 to Dec. 25 can be returned until Jan. 31.
- Apple: Items bought Nov. 3 to Dec. 25 can be returned until Jan. 8.
- Bath & Body Works: Return anytime.
- Best Buy: Items purchased Oct. 27 to Dec. 30 can be returned until Jan. 13.
- Costco: Return anytime. Electronics must be returned 90 days from day of purchase.
- Footlocker: 45 days from purchase
- Gap/Old Navy/Banana Republic/Athleta*: Returns are accepted within 30 days of purchase or delivery at Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic. You have up to 60 days from your purchase or delivery date to make a return at Athleta.
- Home Depot: 90 days from purchase date.
- J. Crew: Items purchased from Oct. 12 to Dec. 9 can be returned until Jan. 9.
- Kohl’s: Most items can be returned up to 180 days after purchase. Exceptions are high-end watches, electronics and Sephora items; those purchased from Nov. 1 through Dec. 25 can be returned until Jan. 31.
- L.L. Bean: Up to one year from date of purchase.
- Lowe’s: 90 days from date of purchase.
- Macy’s: Items purchased from Oct. 2 to Dec. 31 can be returned until Jan. 31.
- Marshalls: Anything purchased in-store from Oct. 8 through Dec. 24 can be returned until Jan. 25. Online purchases can be returned until Jan. 24.
- Microsoft: Purchases made from Oct. 3 through Dec. 31 can be returned through Jan. 31.
- Nordstrom: Returns decided on a case-by-case basis.
- Nordstrom Rack: Items purchased Oct. 16 through Dec. 24 can be returned through Jan. 15.
- Overstock.com: Purchases made from Nov. 1 through Dec. 31 can be returned through Jan. 31.
- PetSmart: Returns are accepted within 60 days of purchase.
- Sam’s Club: Most items can be returned at any time. Electronics, 90 days from date of purchase.
- Target: Most items 90 days. Electronics bought from Oct. 1 to Dec. 25 can be returned through Jan. 24. Apple products purchased Oct. 1 through Dec. 25 can be returned through Jan. 9. Mobile phones purchased from Oct. through Dec. 25 can be returned through Jan. 8. Target RedCard members get an additional 30 days to return items.
- Walmart: Items purchased Oct. 1 through Dec. 31 can be returned through Jan. 31.
- Williams-Sonoma: Purchase made Nov. 1 through Dec. 24 can be returned through Jan. 31.
What items can't be returned?
There are several items that cannot be returned to retailers (in addition to our guide to the things you cannot return to Amazon). They include:
Personalized items. Whether it's a full name, a single letter, or something in between, personalized products often can't be returned, period. If you're planning to take this step when purchasing a gift, be prepared to be stuck with it. If you're considering something like engraving or personalized embroidery, it may be better to purchase the item "bare" to begin with and then add that on after the fact — and when you know your recipient enjoyed the gift.
Custom products. Similar to personalized products, custom items usually can't be returned. Whether it's because they're specific design choices or have custom measurements, retailers won't be able to sell those as easily as something that was standard-made, so if you purchase something like this, be prepared to have it excluded from returns. If you do need to get rid of it, consider donating or trying to sell it yourself online.
Cigarettes and alcohol. Most stores just won't accept returns on these items, even if they're unopened. If you're purchasing, make sure it's what you want — or that you know someone who will use them.
Final sale items. This goes without saying, but final sale items can't be returned. They're called "final sale" for a reason, so once you purchase them, you're stuck with them unless you try to offload them in a different way, such as by donating or reselling to someone else.
Certain clothing. Clothing that is intimate — items including underwear or bathing suits — typically can't be returned unless they're unopened or clearly unworn. “Even then, I wouldn't count on being able to return them, so be very careful before making these kinds of purchases. If you're buying for someone else, it's better to shop with them or offer them a gift card so they can make the purchase themselves, rather than risk buying something that doesn't fit and can't be taken back.
Bob was Senior Editor at Kiplinger.com for seven years and is now a contributor to the website. He has more than 40 years of experience in online, print and visual journalism. Bob has worked as an award-winning writer and editor in the Washington, D.C., market as well as at news organizations in New York, Michigan and California. Bob joined Kiplinger in 2016, bringing a wealth of expertise covering retail, entertainment, and money-saving trends and topics. He was one of the first journalists at a daily news organization to aggressively cover retail as a specialty and has been lauded in the retail industry for his expertise. Bob has also been an adjunct and associate professor of print, online and visual journalism at Syracuse University and Ithaca College. He has a master’s degree from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications and a bachelor’s degree in communications and theater from Hope College.
- Donna LeValleyPersonal Finance Writer
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