Here are the stores with the best and worst return policies

Whether it's an appliance you don't need or an ugly sweater you won't wear, chances are you received at least one gift you want to return.

If so, you're not alone. U.S. retailers (both brick-and-mortar and online) are expecting to handle about $72 billion worth of holiday returns this year, according to estimates from the National Retail Federation. That's 10 percent of their total holiday sales.

An analysis of current holiday return policies by ConsumerWorld.org, a consumer education website, finds that most major retailers are nice, and a few are even innovative.

"Some retailers this year have tweaked their return deadlines — some a little longer, some a bit shorter, and a few even added novel features to their return procedure. But most return rules have remained about the same as last year," said Edgar Dworsky, founder and editor of Consumer

RELATED: Retailers with extremely generous return policies

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Retailers with extremely generous return policies
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Retailers with extremely generous return policies

Costco

Costco has one of the most generous return policies of any store. Any product can be returned to Costco warehouses for any reason. The only restrictions are on electronics, which must be returned within 90 days.

(REUTERS/Molly Riley)

Ikea

Ikea gives customers a 365-day return window for a full refund unless the product in question is a mattress, which can only be exchanged once.

Given that a year is a long time to hold onto a receipt, the store can also help you out by searching for an order using your credit- or debit-card number.

(REUTERS/Max Rossi)

L.L.Bean

L.L.Bean previously offered an almost unbelievably generous return policy - customers could bring back any items bought at L.L.Bean if they felt it didn't live up to their expectations. The guarantee covered the item's full lifetime.

In February, the store reduced the return window to one year, which is still considerably better than a lot of stores.

(Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

REI

REI also used to offer a no-questions-asked return policy where customers could return used items for cash. The return window has now been reduced to one year, but customers are still able to trial the products during that time.

Outdoor products have to be returned within 90 days.

(Getty)

Casper

Mattress startup Casper offers a 100-day window to trial its mattresses. The best part of the return policy is that it imposes no hassle on the customer. The company will come and collect the product from your home and donate it to a charity.

(Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Casper Sleep Inc.)

Athleta

Athleta has its own return policy that far outshines its sister companies Gap and Old Navy.

Customers here are given the chance to work out in products, and if they don't like them, they can return them anytime after.

(Photo by Mike Pont/WireImage)

Trader Joe's

Trader Joe's will give a full refund on its private-label products.

"If a customer purchases a product and is dissatisfied with the purchase, we encourage them to return the product to the store in exchange for a full refund," a spokesperson for the company told Business Insider.

(Getty)

Nordstrom

Nordstrom doesn't have a return policy, per se. Each return is settled on a case-by-case basis, and there are no time limits on when you can return a product.

(REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

Kohl's

Kohl's will take back any item at any time. Customers can make returns in-store or via mail. If you lose the receipt but paid with a store card or credit card, they can look up your order directly.

(Getty)

CVS beauty products

CVS will take back any beauty product purchase, even if it's opened, no questions asked. It has the same policy in place for CVS/pharmacy brand products.

(Getty)

Anthropologie

"All merchandise — with the exception of Unlimited Furniture Delivery items — may be returned at any time by mail or to our stores in the US and Canada," the retailer writes online.

Anthropologie's furniture has to be returned within 30 days of the date of delivery.

(Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)

Eddie Bauer

Eddie Bauer is so confident that customers will be pleased with its products, that it offers anunconditional lifetime return policy.

The concept was created by its founder many years ago and has stuck to this day.

(REUTERS/Fred Prouser/File)

Bed Bath & Beyond

Provided it's within a year, you don't even need a receipt to return products at Bed Bath & Beyond. The store will track down your item using credit-card details or order numbers.

(REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

Zappos

Online shoe store Zappos gives its customers plenty of time to make a decision. Its return policy allows customers to get a full refund within 365 days, providing the product has not been worn and is still in its original packaging.

(Getty)

Sephora

To prevent customers from draining a tube of foundation in a month and then trying to return it in-store, Sephora stipulates that returns must be in "new or gently used condition."

You can get a full refund on your card if you return the item within 60 days, and if it reaches up to 90 days, then you can get a refund in store credit.

(Getty)

Land's End

Land's End's return policy is as good as it gets. You can return any item at any time, provided you have the receipt.

(Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Macy's

Macy's has toughened up its return policy recently. What was a 365-day return window has been cut down to 180 days, which still gives customers ample time to get a refund if they so choose.

There's one exception to the rule: the department store does not allow customers to return products from its "Last Act" clearance sections beyond 30 days.

(Getty)

Bath & Body Works

Bath & Body Works has a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

"We just want you to love it," the company writes on Facebook. You can return or exchange any of its products at any time.

(Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)

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Follow the rules and you should have no problems, Dworsky said. But those rules vary from store to store, so you need to read the fine print, which can be thousands of words long.

Many retailers continue to offer extended holiday return windows, allowing gifts purchased in November to be returned until mid- to late- January, except for electronics which are generally subject to shorter return periods and restrictions. And if the package is opened, your return rights may be limited.

My number one tip is to take back your return items in pristine condition with all the packaging and tags, and with a receipt or gift receipt.

"My number one tip is to take back your return items in pristine condition with all the packaging and tags, and with a receipt or gift receipt," Dworsky told NBC News BETTER. "Without proof of purchase, you may only get the lowest price the item has sold for in the past 90 days, or you might be offered nothing at all. Remember, there is no automatic right to return something, unless it's defective."

Consumer World's 15th annual Holiday Return Policy Survey highlights some unusual and noteworthy policies:

  • Amazon will pay the return shipping on items purchased using Alexa.
  • Items purchased on Target.com can be returned for free.
  • Walmart customers can start the return process by scanning their receipt on the Walmart app and then head to the in-store express lane.
  • Target REDcard holders get 30 extra return days.
  • Bed, Bad & Beyond ended its no-time-limit return policy. It's now one year.
  • Many retailers have shortened the holiday return window for Apple products to 15 days starting on Dec. 26. This matches Apple's standard corporate return policy.

RETURN POLICIES ARE IMPORTANT TO MANY SHOPPERS

While most holiday shoppers decide where to buy based on price, quality and selection, 32 percent of those surveyed by the National Retail Federation (NRF) said return policy was an important factor, significantly ahead of customer service (26 percent).

Return policies are very important to online shoppers, according to a recent survey by Voxware, a technology company that helps retailers manage supply chain issues. Ninety-five percent of the respondents said the way an online merchant handles returns does influence their decision to order from that company again.

"The returns process remains a critical component to ensuring customer loyalty and maintaining a positive brand reputation," said Keith Phillips, President and CEO of Voxware, in a statement.

Return fraud is a huge problem and retailers consider that when they set their holiday return policies. The NRF expects fraudulent holiday returns to hit $6.5 billion this year.

To reduce return fraud and stop return abuse, some chains now require a driver's license or some other form of ID before they'll take something back without a receipt. That way, they can enter this information into a database to see if you're a serial returner, someone who has a track record of buying things and returning them.

BEST AND WORST RETURN POLICIES

Despite the challenges created by returns, some retailers continue to have incredibly generous policies, while others make it a real challenge or impossible to bring things back.

Consumer Reports advises its readers to shop at stores with generous return policies and avoid those that don't. To that end, the editors analyzed 21 national retail chains and categorized their return policies as best and worst.

No surprise that Nordstrom, L.L. Bean, Costco, Eddie Bauer and Zappos made it on the best list, but so did JCPenney and Kohl's (their "hassle free" return policy has no time limit, except for electronics).

On the "tough for returning gifts" list: Sears, Kmart, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy (a 15-day return window for most items, except for Elite members and there's a 15 percent restocking fee for drones and some digital cameras) and Apple (if the item is valued at more than $750, you'll wait 10 days to get a refund check).

"The takeaway here is that you really need to look at the store's return policy," said Consumer Reports senior editor Donna Rosato. "Don't assume that just because it's a luxury-type store, it will have a liberal return policy. A very high-end store or a specialty store might have a really stingy policy, while an everyday retailer might have a very liberal policy. You've got to check."

SHOPPING TIPS FROM YOUR FAVORITE STORES

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