Everyone returns a gift now and then. Maybe the item doesn’t fit. Maybe it doesn’t suit your taste. Or maybe you just read a book extolling the virtues of minimalism and want to give that lifestyle a swing.
Whatever your reason, you’re not alone. In 2018, the National Retail Foundation estimated that around $369 billion worth of merchandise was returned, accounting for about 10 percent of total sales. Around the holiday season, an estimated two-thirds of consumers return an item.
“Consumers are really used to being able to return their goods,” says Larisa Summers, senior vice president of Marketing and E-Commerce at Optoro. Optoro is a platform that helps retailers like Target and Staples recoup the costs of returned goods. “I think a lot of consumers are not aware of how complicated that is for retailers.”
You might think that returned goods are restocked on the shelf where they came from, but Summers said this only happens about half of the time. Otherwise, goods are sold to other retailers—or worse, thrown out. Optoro estimates 5 billion pounds of returned items end up in a landfill every year.
So if you’re going to return holiday gifts, do it in a smart and sustainable way. Being smart about returns yields the best gift of all: a less cluttered home and planet.
First things first: You have more time than you think. While “30 days after the time of purchase” is the normal year-round policy, most retailers adjust their return deadlines this time of year to accommodate post-holiday returns.
Make sure to pack your item with all tags, accessories, and original packaging as much as possible. Unless you’re exchanging a defective product, make sure that your return is in good condition. Goods returned in their original packaging and condition are much easier to resell, Summers says. Without the original packaging, there’s a higher chance the items will end up getting thrown out.
Got a gift receipt? Generally, having one makes it easier and more likely that you’ll get cash or store credit for your return. Some stores will work with you to gather order information if you’ve lost your receipt. At other retailers, you’ll get zilch. Some stores require you to show them ID, so be sure to bring that along too.
Summers encourages consumers to share why they’re returning a product. Retailers take this kind of feedback seriously since it helps them potentially reduce returns for the following year.
Finally, be aware of individual store policies. Some stores will adjust their rules for opened or unopened products, while others will only take returns and exchanges in stores. Below, we’ve rounded up policies from some of the most popular retailers, but it’s a good idea to have a firm understanding of policies specific to the item you’re trying to return before you head back out into the crowds.
Amazon’s Return Policy
Odds are you received at least one gift from the online retail giant. Amazon.com will honor returns and exchanges for items shipped between November 1 and December 31 this year, so long as you return them by January 31, 2020. Pack your item and log in to your Amazon account to start a gift return. You’ll need to enter the “order ID” from the packing slip. Print and affix the provided return label to your package. When your item is received, you’ll receive a refund in the form of an Amazon gift card.
All of this applies to products from Amazon.com. If the item was purchased from a third-party seller, you (or the person who gave you the gift in the first place) would need to facilitate the return with the seller. If you don’t want to bother with the hassle of shipping your package, you may be able to head to Kohl’s and ship out your Amazon return for free.
Tech Retailers: Apple, Best Buy, Target, Walmart
Apple will only accept returns from items that have been purchased at an Apple Store or from Apple’s website. If you received a new product between November 15 and December 25, you have through January 8, 2020 to return or exchange it. For gifts, refunds are issued in the form of an Apple gift card. Exchanges can only be done in the Apple Store.