It's bound to happen. As you unwrap your gifts there probably will be at least one you don't like. Maybe it will be a sweater three sizes too big, the same "World's Greatest Dad" tie you got last year, or a "Gone Fishin'" plaque (even though you don't fish). Whatever it may be, you better hope that it came from a store with a good return policy.
Some retailers really do make it easy for consumers by giving them a year or more to return purchases they're not satisfied with (see Retailers With Generous Return Policies). However, most retailers offer a 30-day window for refunds or exchanges. There are a few, though, that give consumers even less time to bring back items or have strict requirements for issuing refunds.
Some merchants have adopted strict policies in an effort to curb return fraud, which costs retailers billions of dollars a year, according to the National Retail Federation. In particular, retailers are trying to head off "wardrobing" -- the practice of buying, using and then returning a product (usually clothing or electronics) for a refund.
These five retailers have particularly stingy return policies, based on our research and a comparison of retailers' policies by Cheapism.com. The descriptions below highlight the key points of retailers' policies. For more detailed information, visit their Web sites.
Barnes & Noble gives customers just 14 days to return items with a receipt for a refund. However, the bookstore extended its policy for the holidays to allow returns until January 31, 2014, for purchases made between November 11 and December 31. It will not accept returns for Nook books and magazines. And returns with a gift receipt will be refunded in the form of a gift card.
Best Buy won't let you return or exchange products after 15 days, unless you're a Best Buy Elite member (which gives you 30 days) or Elite Plus member (which gives you 45 days). However, gift purchases made between November 3 and December 31 can be returned through January 15, 2014. The original receipt, gift receipt or packing slip is required for all refunds and exchanges. And you'll have to show a photo ID to return an item in-store. Best Buy requires identification because it tracks returns and exchanges to identify customers who frequently bring back purchases.
GameStop limits returns to seven to 30 days, depending on the item, and requires a receipt for all exchanges and returns. Unopened new merchandise can be returned for a refund or exchange within 30 days. Opened items can only be exchanged for identical items within 30 days. And pre-owned products must be returned within seven days for a refund or 30 days for an exchange for the identical item. Customers with a gift receipt can exchange an item or receive a gift card of equal value.
Gilt has a relatively short return window and a complicated policy. For starters, this members-only shopping site allows only sized items -- clothing, footwear and belts -- to be returned for a refund. Handbags, toys, ties and other non-sized items aren't eligible for return. Customers have 21 days to return eligible items, which must be unused and in their original packaging. Items priced at $199.99 or less can be returned for Gilt credits. Items priced at $200 or more can be returned for Gilt credits or a refund minus $7.95 for return shipping. On its Web site, Gilt justifies its return policy as a trade-off for "instant insider access to top designer labels and coveted products at a significant discount."
Overstock.com will give customers a full refund if they return new, unopened items within 30 days of delivery. However, the online retailer will issue only a partial refund if an item has been opened or shows signs of wear. According to Cheapism.com, this policy seems punitive compared with other retailers that impose similar restrictions on only a select few product categories. Overstock also will issue a reduced refund when returns are initiated after 30 days or are received at its processing facility 45 days after delivery. On its Web site, the company defends its 30-day return window because "products devalue over time." Overstock has, however, extended its policy to give customers more time to return holiday purchases. Returns for purchases made November 1 through December 31 must be initiated by January 31.