Beware Stricter and Costlier Holiday Return Policies This Year

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Some mainstream retailers tweaked their return policies this year by adding or raising return-by-mail fees or shortening the return window for holiday purchases, according to Consumer World’s 20th annual return policy survey. Amazon, Macy’s, Staples, TJ Maxx and Marshalls were among the stores making changes.

Though some are shorter this year, most stores continue to offer extended holiday return periods whereby gifts purchased as early as Oct. 1, such as in Walmart’s case, can be returned until mid- to late-January, considerably beyond the normal deadline.

What hasn’t changed is the complexity of stores’ return policies that are designed in part to reduce return fraud. The combined policies for the 11 chains surveyed amount to over 36,000 words and 78 pages of fine print.

Return policy changes for 2023

Noteworthy changes and novel return policies for 2023 include:

  • Amazon delayed its holiday return policy by 21 days to Nov. 1, allowing returns of most items purchased since that date to be sent back as late as Jan. 31. Apple products now have a shorter 15-day return window, but it is extended until Jan. 15 for holiday purchases. Some UPS drop-offs cost $1 if an Amazon-affiliated location like Whole Foods or Kohl’s is closer. Restocking fees apply in limited cases.
  • Walmart added a new major appliance return policy. It is only two days. will no longer match prices of other retailers.
  • Macy’s added a $9.99 return shipping fee for non-Star Rewards members. They lowered the mattress pick-up fee from $110 to $99. They also shortened the return period for toys from 90 days to 30 days.
  • Kohl’s continues to not pay for return shipping by mail.
  • Home Depot continues its novel policy of allowing one year to return purchases made using the Home Depot credit card.
  • TJ Maxx and Marshalls raised their returns-by-mail shipping and handling fee by one dollar to $11.99.
  • Staples shortened its holiday purchase window by nine days, accepting returns only until Jan. 14 for items purchased since Nov. 12.
  • Target continues to offer a one-year return period for house-branded items. Its purchase window started five days earlier, on Oct. 1.

“Many major retailers continue to recognize the longer holiday shopping season and give customers more time to make returns. And while some companies have begun imposing fees for mail-in returns, the eleven big retailers in our survey and virtually all brick and mortar stores still provide free returns in person,” said Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumer World, a leading consumer education website.

Generous return policies

Summarized below are policies of some chains with generous regular or holiday return deadlines and their return fees, if any, for online purchases:

Jan. 31 for most items purchased Nov. 1 through Dec. 31. Some returns have restocking fees. Most items have at least one free return option. Some UPS locations are $1 for drop-offs if an Amazon-affiliated return location like Whole Foods or Kohl’s is closer.

Best Buy

Jan. 13 for most purchases made Oct. 27 through Dec. 30. Loyalty members generally get more time. Some restocking fees. Free returns with their shipping label.


No deadline, but 90 days from date member received the item for: TVs, computers, cameras, smartwatches, MP3 players, cellphones, monitors, major appliances, etc. Free returns for purchases.

Home Depot

A 90-day deadline for most items, but others are as few as two to 30 days. Free returns.


A 180-day deadline, but premium electronics, watches and Sephora products bought after Nov. 1 are returnable until Jan. 31. No free shipping.


A 90-day deadline for most returns. The holiday return deadline is extended to Jan. 31 for most items purchased Oct. 2 or later, but many conditions apply. These include that Apple products and tech accessories bought Dec. 2-24 are returnable until Jan. 7. Free mail returns for orders made by Star Reward members only, otherwise $9.99.


Jan. 25 for purchases in stores from Oct. 8-Dec. 24. These retailers post clear in-store signs about their extended holiday return policy every year — a rarity. An $11.99 fee is deducted for postage/handling for mailed returns.


No deadline for returns of office supplies. A Jan. 14 deadline for electronics and furniture bought since Nov. 12. Free online returns.

T.J. Maxx

Jan. 25 for purchases in stores from Oct. 8-Dec. 24. These retailers post clear in-store signs about their extended holiday return policy every year — a rarity. An $11.99 fee is deducted for postage/handling for mailed returns.


For most items, 90 days. For the following specific items bought since Oct. 1, return countdowns begin on Dec. 26: For electronics and entertainment items, 30 days; for most Apple items, 15 days; for cellphones, 14 days. RedCard holders get 30 extra days. Free mail returns.


Most items purchased from Oct. 1-Dec. 31 are returnable for 90 days. Major appliances are returnable for two days. Counting from Dec. 26, most electronics are 30 days, while cellphones and luxury products are 14 days. Free mail returns for online purchases.

Location can affect return policies

Return policy law varies from state to state.

Generally, a store can set up any return policy it wants, whether it is “all sales final,” “merchandise credit only” or “all returns in 30 days.”

Many states require the policy to be clearly disclosed to the buyer prior to purchase, usually by means of a conspicuous sign. Some states do not consider a disclosure that only appears on the sales receipt to meet this requirement.

It is not unreasonable, however, to require customers to provide a sales slip or gift receipt to establish where and when the item was purchased, and at what price. Those with a gift receipt will generally only receive an even exchange or store credit, not cash.

Tips for hassle-free returns

Here’s Consumer World’s advice for making returns as easy as possible:

  • Don’t fight the crowds on the return lines the day after Christmas. Go back a day or two later, or better yet, see if the store provides free returns by mail.
  • To improve your chances of getting full credit, provide a sales slip or gift receipt and return the item in new condition, unopened and with all packaging material. Returns without a receipt are subject to the posted return policy, which might result in you receiving only a merchandise credit for the lowest price the item has sold for recently — or possibly no refund or exchange at all.
  • Check if online purchases are subject to any return fees. If possible, return those purchases to a retailer’s brick-and-mortar location or free drop-off spots to avoid those charges and/or the cost of postage.
  • Know that if the item to be returned is defective, some states, such as Massachusetts, require the store to give the consumer his/her choice of one of the three “R’s” — repair, replacement or refund — irrespective of the store’s posted return policy.
  • Consumers who have a problem returning a gift should first contact the store manager or customer service department of the retailer. If a satisfactory resolution is not obtained, then a complaint can be filed with the state attorney general’s office or local consumer agency.

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