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Retail returns secrets that can help you save

Ned Ehrbar

Shoppers are always looking for a sense of security when making a purchase, and a solid return policy can go a long way toward building that.

For more than a century, L.L. Bean kept customers coming back with its famously generous return policy: They would take back any product for almost any reason, no matter how long after you bought it or what shape it was in. The store changed its policy last year to allow returns for up to a year after purchase.

But by reducing the window for returns, L.L. Bean is in the minority in the retail world.

“We’re actually seeing retailers move toward longer return policies,” Joanie Demer of Krazy Coupon Lady says. “That's because statistics show that a more lengthy return policy is actually correlated with a lower rate of returns and a higher initial spend from the consumer because we're able to feel confident as shoppers that if we determine that we don't like an item or the quality isn't what we thought it was, we can always get our money back.”

Before you head out to the store, keep these handy secrets in mind.

Return secrets for Target

Most shoppers would assume a major department store chain like Target would utilize a traditional 30-day return window, but they’d be wrong. Target actually guarantees all of their store brands for an entire year -- “even if it's worn, used up, anything,” Demer says.

When it comes to cosmetics, Target rivals Sephora with its return policy, allowing customers to return any used beauty products for up to 90 days from the date of purchase.

Return secrets for Lowe’s and Home Depot

Both Lowe’s and Home Depot offer a unique return policy that applies to plants.

Locations for either brand will allow returns of plants for up to a year after purchase, and you don’t even have to worry about not having a green thumb. You can return the plants “even once you've killed them,” Demer says, though you do need a receipt. “Whether it's a garden plant or something that you use in your landscaping, if you planted it in the ground and you no longer have the pot, dig it up, haul that dirty root ball in and they'll give you your money back or let you exchange it for a new plant.”

Return secrets for Athleta and R.E.I.

Here’s some good news for fans of athleisure and the great outdoors. Workout gear chain Athleta and camping goods store R.E.I. both want customers to know they fully stand behind their products, so they’ll let you bring back items for a refund or exchange -- even if they’ve been heavily used -- for up to a year.

“Camp in the tent, decide you don't like it, bring it back,” Demer says. “Work out in the pants, get sweaty and you can still bring them back to the store.”

Just don’t forget about it

Demer has one piece of overall wisdom to remember: “The key to being a smart shopper and saving money is to actually take the items back,” she says. “Don't leave them lurking in your closet just because the return policy is lengthy.”

In fact, part of the reason stores employ lengthy return policies is because the longer you have it, the less likely you are to bring it back.

“Take them back to the store, do the legwork and save that money,” she says.

Follow Ned Ehrbar on Twitter.