10 stores with great return policies

By Maryalene LaPonsie/MoneyTalksNews

Even the most thoughtful gift-giver can't get it right all the time. In fact, Randy Allen -- an associate dean for the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University -- told The Wall Street Journal anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of holiday sales are returned or exchanged.

To ensure your loved ones are able to exchange that too-small sweater or return their extra toaster, consider shopping at one of these stores:

Nordstrom

Among department store return policies, Nordstrom is the gold standard. They take back any item at any time, receipt or no receipt. There's no return counter: Approach any sales associate. If you need to return something by mail, they even provide postage-paid labels.

However, don't make the mistake of confusing Nordstrom with sister discount chain Nordstrom Rack. The return policy at Nordstrom Rack isn't too bad -- you have 90 days to return unused merchandise so long as you have the receipt, original tags and a photo ID -- but it is nowhere near as generous as the Nordstrom policy.

L.L. Bean

Another store offering a no-holds barred return policy is L.L. Bean. The company says its products are "Guaranteed to Last" and will take back items at any time for any reason.

However, be aware you will pay a $6.50 return shipping fee unless you are an L.L. Bean Visa cardholder. Or, if you live near one of the retailer's outlet or store locations, you could always make your return or exchange there.

Macy's

Macy's is another department store that places few limits on returns and exchanges. It promises easy returns, and the gift return policy posted online says you can return merchandise at any time to the store.

The only catch is you can't return a gift for cash. If you have a gift receipt, you get the full purchase price credited back to you in the form of a Macy's gift card. If you don't have a receipt, you still get a credit but it is for the lowest selling price of the last 180 days.

Costco

Selling everything from caskets to cucumbers, Costco says it stands behind its products 100 percent. You can get a full refund on anything. Exceptions: "Televisions, projectors, computers, cameras, camcorders, touchscreen tablets, iPOD / MP3 players and cellular phones must be returned within 90 days of purchase for a refund."

For online purchases, the company provides UPS postage-paid labels. Customers can also return items directly to their local Costco warehouse and receive a refund that includes shipping and handling.

Zappos

You don't need to worry about buying the wrong shoes online if you make your purchase from Zappos. The shoe retailer gives you 365 days to return unused products and will even pay for the return shipping. That means if those strappy heels don't look quite as cute on you as they do on the model, you can send them right back -- just don't wear them to the party first.

Athleta

A division of Gap, Athleta specializes in workout gear for women. However, while other Gap brands will only take back unwashed or unworn items, Athleta lets you return anything for any reason. They will even pay for the return shipping and the cost to ship out an exchange.

Kohl's

Hassle-free returns are the name of the game at Kohl's. They will take back any item at any time regardless of whether you have a receipt. The only exception is gift cards, which cannot be returned.

Bloomingdale's

Bloomingdale's is another department store with a liberal return policy. For most items, you can make a return at any time. Still, some categories have restrictions. For example, certain special event dresses cannot be returned once the tag is removed. Mattresses can only be returned within five years and are subject to fees, and return freight on furniture is the responsibility of the buyer.

Target

While Target doesn't go so far as to say it will accept any and all returns, its policy does promise to "attempt a return" on all items purchased in its stores and online. However, its actual return policy varies depending on what you purchase and its condition.

  • Unopened items in new condition can be returned within 90 days for a refund or exchange.
  • Electronics such as no-contract cell phones, computers, cameras and gaming systems must be returned within 30 days.
  • Music, movies, video games and software that have been opened cannot be returned but may be exchanged.
  • Open or defective collectible items cannot be returned.
  • Items purchased between Nov. 1st and Dec. 25th are subject to a 30-day return period that starts on Dec. 26th.

If you need more time, you could always make purchases with your Target REDcard, which gives you an extra 30 days to make a return.

JCPenney

Like Target, JCPenney has a return policy that varies significantly based upon what you've purchased and whether you have a receipt. Here are the highlights of their policies.

  • Most items with a receipt can be returned for a full refund or exchange. Returns made with a gift receipt will receive a JCPenney gift card.
  • Electronics, fine jewelry and salon appliances must be returned with a receipt within 60 days.
  • Other items can be returned without a receipt, but the refund will be issued as a JCPenney gift card in the amount of the lowest selling price from within the last 45 days. A photo ID is required for all returns made without a receipt.
  • Heavy or bulky items (think furniture) that must be returned via a truck are subject to a restocking fee ranging from $75 to $125.

Those are some of the retailers with great return policies in the business. What you can learn from this list is that even among the best, policies vary widely. So wherever you shop this season and beyond, always ask about return policies before you buy.