As You Shop Black Friday, Keep Return Policies in Mind

Before making purchases this holiday season, consider retailer return policies to save time and money.
Amanda BarrosoNov 5, 2021

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When you think of Black Friday, the first thing that pops to mind is probably gift buying. But many of those gifts will also need to be returned — and there are going to be lots of gifts this year. The National Retail Federation expects this year’s spending to be 8.5% to 10.5% higher than last year.

Knowing and understanding the return policies for retailers before making purchases can save you both time and money.

Lay the groundwork for smooth returns

Here are some ways to help prepare for Black Friday shopping:

  • Take advantage of stores that have holiday-specific policies, such as extended return windows.

  • Know what kinds of items are commonly excluded from return policies before purchasing. Some big-ticket items — such as TVs, electronics and cell phones — tend to have shortened return windows, and gift cards are usually ineligible altogether.

  • Keep your receipts, and include gift receipts for friends and family members. Having a receipt in hand increases the likelihood of a smooth return process.

  • Consider which stores offer free shipping and returns to save money.

  • Keep the original packaging.

Take advantage of new return options

While returning your items in the store — with a receipt — is the fastest way to get a refund, it’s not always possible. For example, not all retailers have a brick-and-mortar presence, and some people live far from shopping centers. In these cases, shoppers may be able to take advantage of new return models from retailers.

Retail partnerships with companies like Happy Returns or the UPS Store 360 Returns program allow shoppers to initiate returns at other designated locations — often with the option to return unboxed items and receive quicker refunds.

“Retailers know that returns can be a pain point and some of these other options, in addition to a store-based return, are out there to kind of release some of that [pain] or release some of that friction,” says Katherine Cullen, senior director of industry and consumer insights at the National Retail Federation. When ordering online, check out the return policy to see if these partnerships will be accessible to you if you need to make a return.

Be mindful of USPS shipping slowdowns

If you’re debating whether to return an item in store or by mail, it’s important to be aware of the U.S. Postal Service’s new delivery standard, which took effect on Oct. 1. Unfortunately, the new standard has extended the length of delivery times, which could delay your return from getting to retailers that use USPS.

The holiday season is a historically busy time for the USPS. Last year was a record-setting year, “with more than a billion packages delivered,” said Kimberly Frum, senior public relations representative for USPS, in an email.

Check out holiday-specific return policies

Many retailers are offering holiday-specific return policies this year. “Retailers notice the time when consumers are buying items in advance, and many of them may adjust some of their return policies to allow for the holiday season and longer returns,” Cullen says.

Here is a list of some retailers that have already outlined their holiday return policies, but be on the lookout for more stores to join in as Black Friday approaches.

No matter where you shop, check out the return policy and holiday guidelines before buying.

Amazon

Most items bought from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31 can be returned until Jan. 31. However, note that third-party sellers on Amazon might have a different return policy. To see if you’re buying directly from Amazon, check for “ships from” and “sold by” Amazon.com in the description.

Best Buy

Items purchased from Oct. 13 to Jan. 2 can be returned through Jan. 16. This holiday return policy has exceptions, such as items bought through third-party sellers (like cell phones) and holiday decor items (artificial trees, for example). 

Kohl’s

Kohl’s has a generous return policy (up to 180 days after purchase on most items). Still, it has added an extended return period on premium electronics: Qualifying items purchased from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31 can be returned through Jan. 31 with a valid receipt and original packaging. Typically, consumers have only 30 days to return premium electronics. 

Macy’s

Macy’s holiday return policy notes that items bought on or after Oct. 5 will be accepted through Jan. 31. Check out return conditions; for example, throwing away original packaging or removing tags could disqualify a return. 

Target

The general return policy is within 90 days for unopened merchandise. The extended holiday return policy applies to electronics and entertainment items bought from Oct. 1 to Dec. 25. These items have a 30-day window for returns, starting on Dec. 26 and running through Jan. 24. There are some exclusions (like Apple products and mobile phones), so check policy details.

Walmart

Walmart has a 90-day return window for most items, but its holiday policy focuses on exceptions to that. For items purchased from Nov. 1 to Dec. 25, the return window starts on Dec. 26. Pay attention to the exceptions to be sure your purchases qualify.