There's no shame in it.
Photograph by Jamie Grill Getty Images
By Chris Morris
December 9, 2015

All too frequently “You shouldn’t have!” isn’t a self deprecating way of saying thank you for a gift. Instead, it’s an honest assessment of the awfulness of the present.

Just as long lines at cash registers are a part of the pre-holiday season, the post-holiday period is made up of long lines at return counters. But some places make it easier than others.

GOBankingRates.com has put together a list of the stores with the best and worst return policies in 2015, looking at who’s the most flexible in terms of return times limits and receipt policies – and who’s the worst. The top 5 are:

  1. Nordstrom
  2. L.L. Bean
  3. Bed Bath & Beyond
  4. JCPenny
  5. Costco

Why is Nordstrom #1?

Nordstrom (JWN) tops the list – in large part because it doesn’t put any real limits on its return policy. Forget those three day or even 30 day windows. The retailer says it handles returns on a case-by-case basis and strives to satisfy customers. That means that even if you don’t have the receipt or the tags have been removed, you can still get a fair credit for the item. And if it was bought online, you won’t have to worry about shipping.

L.L. Bean, at #2, is similarly focused on customer satisfaction, making it easy to return items. You’re better off with a receipt here, though, or you’ll get store credit at the current selling price.

Got some bed sheets that were the wrong size or a kitchen appliance that just doesn’t mesh with your style? Bed Bath & Beyond (BBB) ranks third on the site’s list, thanks to its no time limit policy. A refund goes to the original payment form, so you might want to opt for an exchange or credit. If you don’t have a receipt, the company can look up purchases made in the past year – and if they still can’t find the record, you’ll get store credit for the item’s current price (minus a 20% fee).

While JCPenny (JCP) isn’t the retail superpower it once was, it’s on the rebound – and the company, at #4, is generous with its returns policy, which could prove useful if you’ve got unwanted items from there. Receipt-less returns receive store credit and you can return some items (though not electronics) without their original packaging. Like other top companies in the GOBankingRates rankings, there’s no time limit on returns, though the site notes that JCPenny does have a few more exceptions to the rule than others.

When it comes to electronics, generally you have no more than 30 days from the point of purchase to return the item, but at Costco (COST), you’ve got 90. And other items can be returned at any point. Receipts are preferred, but because it’s a membership club, sales can generally be looked up. You are not, however, able to return most items by mail.

Big box policies

When it comes to big box retailers – like WalMart(WMT), Target(TGT) and Amazon (AMZN), things tend to vary. Each will process returns without a receipt, except when it comes to electronics. And each scored higher than average in GoBankingRate’s survey.

Target offers a 365-day return policy for its own brands and extends all return windows by 30 days for its REDcard holders. Walmart has a 90 day return policy for most items and allows up to three receipt-free returns in 45 days (with refunds under $25 being given in cash). Amazon has the tightest return window – just 30 days – but is much more flexible and, in some cases, will refund the money before the return is made.

Of course, not all retailers are so welcoming when you bring their wares back to the store.

And the worst

GOBankingRates says Forever 21 has the worst return policy of the stores it surveyed, noting its 21-day window (though the store may extend this during the holidays) and strict requirements on returns (unused, with tags still attached). It also frowned upon the company’s policy of only offering exchanges and store credit, rather than cash refunds.

Kmart(SHLD), meanwhile, has a firm 30 day return window, which it doesn’t plan to extend this holiday season. And if you don’t have a receipt for that Blue Light Special, you’re out of luck. Fortunate enough to have a gift receipt? That’s good, but it will only get you a store credit. No cash.

The dubious honor of the shortest return window goes to Barnes & Noble(BKS), which allows returns for just two weeks – though it has historically extended that period for a bit during the holidays. You’ll need a receipt or proof of payment, though.

Sure, when it comes to gifts, it’s the thought that counts, but there’s no reason to be stuck with something you really don’t want or need once the holidays are over.

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