Return Policies: The In’s and Out’s


What Does the Law Say About Returns?

There is no law of the land that ensures you can return something you purchased for a refund or store credit. As a general business practice, most stores offer a return policy to better convenience their customers.

However, retailers are required by law to accept a return of an item if it is defective. Laws vary from state to state, but generally dictate that the return policy must be posted in the store.

Return policies often include the following:

  • Duration – a clearly stated time period in which a return or exchange is valid (after this date, a return or exchange might be acceptable for store credit)
  • Exceptions – some items may not be eligible for return such as underwear, swimwear and holiday products
  • Shipping – shipping costs for online/virtual stores
  • Payment – reimbursement is usually made in the same method it was originally received or via store credit

About Return Fraud

According to the National Retail Federation, retail fraud cost the industry $10.9 billion in 2014. Criminals “return” stolen goods to receive the store credit, which they can in turn sell online for about 80 percent return.

Most people would never engage in that level of deception, but purchasing an item and returning it later does not seem like a crime. However, returns cost the retail industry a fortune. In 2013, the Business of Fashion announced that retailers suffered $8.8 billion in losses due to unsalable, gently used and returned merchandise.

Some businesses cater to the consumers’ need to return merchandise. offers free shipping and free returns, and Nordstrom’s return policy is legendary – handling each return on a case-by-case basis (they technically do not have a return policy).

How to Successfully Return Merchandise

As businesses tighten their restrictions on returns, making a return can be more difficult. Below are ten tips for ensuring a smooth return:

  1. Package the item nicely if you opened it (put it back in the box, zip up the bag).
  2. Act quickly and make the return sooner rather than later and always within the return period.
  3. Return to the same store where you purchased the item. It can look suspicious if you return the item to another store.
  4. Return to the store during non-busy hours, usually in the morning, or just after lunch.
  5. Bring the item to the counter in the store bag (with the store name and logo) and receipt.
  6. Smile and look pleasant as you wait in the service line, as this is often a place where people are frustrated and angry.
  7. Provide a valid reason why the item is being returned.
  8. Request the funds be returned via the original payment method. If that is not possible, politely state that a store credit will be acceptable.
  9. Stay pleasant during the transaction, even if you are questioned or denied the right to return your merchandise.
  10. Thank the cashier for his time and wish him a good day no matter how the situation ended.

Although return policies may seem like an unnecessary obstacle, they serve a purpose to the business owner, who is trying to make a living just like you.

Additional Resources

  • No Questions Asked” Return Policy for Apps and Content Set to go Into Effect in Europe, by Dan Rowinski




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