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Retailers Are Shortening Return Periods

It’s time to start reading the fine print on all of your purchases at your favorite stores

Remember the days when you had an infinite amount of time to return your purchases? A new report by ConsumerWorld.org shows how major retailers have been shortening those return windows every year.

In 2015, consumers had an “unlimited” amount of time to return their items to Kohl’s, Macy’s, and Bed Bath & Beyond. In 2019 they’re lucky to find a store that gives 180 days to take back their purchased items. Plus, many retailers have their own exceptions to their overarching rules (and not in the consumer’s favor), so be sure to get all of the information when you shop. For example, Bed Bath & Beyond has a return policy within 180 days of purchase, but all electronics must be returned in only 90 days, according to the report.

Why the changes? Many reasons says Edgar Dwosrky, Founder and Editor of Consumer World. Some stores are just keeping up with their competitors by adjusting their return windows to tailor to the time period in which most of their shoppers make returns anyway. Others are looking to combat return fraud and avoid being stuck with “outdated merchandise,” he adds. “Electronics have a really short shelf-life before a new/better model comes out. And stores don’t want to take back a winter coat in July.” The new policies should also help sales, because stores won’t be losing sales on returned items, says Andrea Woroch, consumer savings expert at andreaworoch.com.

So what does it mean for you? You have to keep your eyes open — wider. It can no longer be assumed that any item can be returned at any time, says Dworsky. That said, even the stores that have cut their return time periods down still give “ample time” for the consumer to decide if he or she wants to keep the item, he adds. As a consumer, ask about the return policy before you buy, Dworsky suggests, and if it seems too short, buy from another store with a more lenient policy.

And if you end up running afoul of these policies — or have difficulty with an item purchased over the holidays, Dworsky reminds us to speak up. If a product you buy becomes defective, take it back to the store and ask for a refund or an exchange. In these cases, the manufacturer and seller hold responsibility, as long as the buyer brings it back within a reasonable amount of time, he adds. Speak with a manager about “special circumstances,” suggests Woroch. “They may be able to adjust the return rules for case by case basis.”

With Rebecca Cohen

Jean Chatzky

Jean Chatzky