(NBC) -- What makes a great return policy?
Enough time to get that mistake back to the store? Recouping your money without having to dig through a pile of receipts? Receiving that return in whatever form is most convenient for you? And,
if you're buying online, how about free return shipping?
These days, with a lot of merchants, you have to pick and choose
which points are most important to you. When it comes to returns, very
few retailers offer it all.
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Some stores might give a full return
within a certain window of time -- but you need a real receipt, not a
gift receipt. Others have a very short time window but might not
require much paperwork. And some are lenient on time but might limit
you to a store gift card.
Don't forget that rules can also change
depending on what you bought or how you paid for it. And a handful of
stores also assess those pesky restocking fees.
It's enough to make even a veteran shopper dizzy.
the holidays though, many of the major retailers will offer more
liberal return policies, says Teri Gault, co-author of Shop Smart, Save
Here, in no particular order, are five stores that are earning a reputation for making returns easy.
The return policy is that there is no return policy, says Colin Johnson, spokesman for Nordstrom. "You won't find one posted at the cash register or on your receipt. We're just going to stand behind our merchandise. The bottom line is that we work with the customer."
The highlights to this kind of thinking for a consumer are that
there's no time limit, no receipt required and no paperwork. And you
get treated the same whether you have a gift receipt or purchase
If you bought online from Nordstrom.com, the store
provides free return shipping, he says. Or you can take the item back
to a local store.
"The way it works is we ask our people in the
stores to use good judgment," Johnson says. "The ultimate objective is
taking care of the customer. It really depends on the situation. You
really can't have a rule book that takes into account every scenario."
chain's discount store, Nordstrom Rack, operates a little differently
with respect to returns because items come from closeouts and special
purchases, says Johnson. There, you'll have 30 days to return items,
and receipts and tags are preferred, he says.
Johnson says, is that employees "try to remove the clutter -- the
policy-type stuff that can get in the way of taking care of the
You'd think an online shoe store would be a tough sell, since shoes are all about fit.
Zappos.com has built a business around making returns easy so that
customers can order several pairs, try them on and ship back the ones
that don't work. As a result, the retailer is as famous for its return
policy as it is for its shoes.
return policy for Zappos.com is if you're not 100 percent satisfied
with your purchase, you can return it for a full refund," says Corey
Schreiber, content developer for Zappos Insights.
to Zappos.com's policy are that you have one year to return
merchandise. Because you're shopping online (and orders are tracked),
you never need a receipt. Shipping is free for orders and returns. And
for returns, you can print out shipping labels at the Zappos site, or
the company will email or snail mail them to you, he says.
cool feature is the company's "advanced exchange." If you need a
different size or color, the company will ship it to you for free. All
you have to do is send back the first item within the next two weeks,
he says. All the shipping is free, and you don't have to worry about
carrying two items on your credit or debit account.
"We use it as a 'wow' tool," says Schreiber.
Just what every consumer needs: No time limits and no receipts required.
you bought online from L.L.Bean, you can return the merchandise to your
local store, or you can send the item back using prepaid labels you
can print from the site.
It's all part of the Maine-based
retailer's "100 percent satisfaction guarantee," says Carolyn Beem, an
L.L.Bean spokeswoman. "We are one of the few companies out there that
lets the customer define what 'satisfaction' is," she says.
shipping is $6.50 (deducted from your refund) or free if you have an
L.L.Bean credit card or are sending back the item because it's
defective, she says.
During the lifetime of a product, if you
find you're not happy, "We encourage you to return it for a refund,
store credit or replacement," Beem says.
"It's a pretty simple policy," she says.
Membership club Costco is another retailer trying to make returns easy.
are members who pay fees to join, so "We will refund in full at any
time (if) a member is dissatisfied," says Franz Lazarus, an executive
vice president with Costco. Members generally get the refund in the
same form they paid, while nonmembers would likely get cash or store
gift cards, he says.
With consumer electronics, which tend to have
a shelf life, there is a 90-day window to return, he says. "That's the
And that's been the only change to the return
policy over the years, says Lazarus. "We felt at one point several
years ago that we had to initiate that because technology was changing
You also don't have to have a receipt, he says.
"(While) we like for there to be a receipt because it makes the process
easier, we would not refuse a refund because there was no receipt."
online? "Anything that's purchased online can be returned to one of
our locations," he says. And return shipping is free.
If you paid via credit card, debit card, gift card or check, the
store can track your purchase and refund the full amount without a
receipt, says Jessica Deede, spokeswoman for the retailer.
The store's return window is 90 days. The one exception is consumer electronics, which have a 30-day return window.
even offers shoppers a generous "gift" during holiday time. For
holiday purchases (anything bought in November or before Dec. 24), that
30-day clock doesn't start until Dec. 26, she says. That way shoppers
"don't have to hold off or wait," to buy, Deede says.
actual receipt (or searchable purchase record), you'll get all of your
money back. If you have a gift receipt, you'll get a gift card or
exchange, she says.
If you paid by check, consult a calendar. If
it's been less than seven days, you could be offered cash or a gift
card, says Deede. But if the store has had at least a week to clear the
check, then you'll get a cash refund, she says.
Most products can be returned to your local store, says Deede. (To be
sure check the "shipping & returns" tab before you buy, she
And if you want (or need) to ship it back, shipping costs are deducted from your return, says Deede.