Some Retailers Are Better at Accepting Returns Than Others
For Andrew Bernstein, holiday gift returns are a pain in the neck -- unless you're dealing with a company that goes the extra mile for customers looking for a return.
"I had an issue once with a Motorola Moto 360," says Bernstein. "It was around three or four months after buying it at Best Buy. The screen stopped working, and it wouldn't power on. I called Motorola to process a return, and they refused."
Motorola told Bernstein if he didn't have the serial number (he threw away the box the device came in), the company wouldn't honor his request for a return. "After hearing that, I went to Best Buy with the printed out receipt and they processed a replacement," he said. "I have had amazing experiences with Best Buy, and Amazon has been good about returns, too."
Bernstein's return saga should resonate with shoppers this holiday season.
According to GOBankingRates.com, 69 percent of Americans say they returned at least some of their holiday gifts last year.
Retailers that do a good job of expediting gift and product returns include Nordstrom (JWN), L.L. Bean, Costco (COST) and Bed Bath & Beyond (BBY), GOBankingRates says in a survey. "Each offers much more flexible return policies that other stores," the company states.
For consumers, finding a store or retail outlet with a flexible purchase return policy is the Holy Grail of post-holiday shopping. "Return policies should be a big consideration for holiday shoppers -- two-thirds of people return at least one holiday gift," says Elyssa Kirkham, lead reporter on the GOBankingRates study. "Shopping at stores that are return-friendly can make life a lot easier if you have to make adjustments to your shopping list later on. It'll also allow you to give guilt-free knowing your recipient won't face a lot of hassle if they decide to return it."
In addition to the perennial return favorites listed above, J.C. Penney (JCP), Staples (SPLS), Zappos, REI, Macy's (M) and Kohl's (KSS) all made GOBankingRate's "Top 10" list for good product return experiences. On the down side, Forever 21, Kmart, Barnes & Noble (BKS), GameStop (GME) and Sears (SHLD) made its "worst" return policies list.
What makes a good and flexible purchase return policy? The study says "generous return windows" count highly among retail analysts. 80 percent of the best return policies place no time limits on returns, and the other 20 percent give customers a generous 365 days to make returns, the survey notes.
Accepting returns without receipts is also huge. 90 percent of stores surveyed will do so, but many only offer store credit in return.
Retailers fall off the beam in other purchase return areas, too. That's especially so in not fully explaining their return policies and in not making it easy and clear for customers to locate return lines in stores, according to a separate study on the topic by StellaService, a New York City-based customer service performance analytical firm.
The trick for holiday shoppers is to take some pre-return steps to ensure a good experience. For instance, apply for the store's credit card program where you buy your gifts. That way they will have records of what you bought if you don't have a receipt, says Howard Schaffer, vice president of merchandising for Offers.com.
"Also, take pictures of your receipts and when possible have the store email the receipt to you so you also can find it on your phone when you go to return the items," Schaffer advises. "And, when returning items online it's important to be aware of the store's guarantee. Oftentimes online items can only be returned up to 30-days from the purchase date."
Schaffer also advises shopping at stores like Kohl's, that will take back any product, at any time, for any reason. "Do keep in mind that without a receipt you may receive a lower refund than what you paid due to fluctuation in product pricing," he says. Above all, stay calm, Schaffer emphasizes. "We understand that returning a product can be stressful but often times it is just as stressful for the sales associate trying to assist you," he notes. "A stressed associate is more likely to help a calm and considerate customer than a rude one."
On that note, here's hoping for any happy returns for you this holiday season -- just try to remember that receipt.