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Top retailers' 2015 return and receipt policies

Most allow no-receipt returns, within limits; card issuers may offer relief, too

By Kristen Cabrera

Our survey of 12 large retailers' policies regarding returning items without a receipt shows most allow it -- within limits.

Although a staunch "no receipt, no return" policy is rare, it does still happen, and there can be individual store quirks that make the return process difficult to predict. Store policies tend to be tiered, with full refunds reserved for those who meet the gold standard: They return the entire item, in its original packaging, quickly, with a receipt. The further you vary from the gold standard, the less you get back.

Credit card holders may find that using their cards provides an added avenue to a refund, since some retailers will look up a credit card transaction and let you use that as proof of purchase for a return.

As to how you'll get your money back, it's typical for stores to return it in the same way it was tendered. So if you used a credit card, expect to get the money back in the form of a credit on your card's statement.

Many stores extend their return policies for the holidays, so the return clock starts ticking around Christmas, when gifts are opened, instead of when items were bought. Best Buy, for example, extends its normal 15-day return policy so items may be returned until Jan. 15, 2016, even if they were bought as early as Nov. 1, 2015. 

If you don't get satisfaction from the retailer, don't give up hope. MasterCard, Discover and American Express all have return assistance programs. Visa once did, but no longer offers it. Instead, it has a Purchase Security program on some of its Signature cards, which allows a limited number of items to be replaced, repaired or reimbursed if damaged or stolen within 90 days of purchase.

Below is a summary of 12 top retailers' return and receipt policies.
MAJOR RETAILERS' RETURN, RECEIPT POLICIES
Store Date restriction Receipt required? Credit transaction look-up if no receipt?
Barnes & Noble 14 days. Ebooks and other digital content cannot be returned. Yes. Yes, if purchased in store.
Best Buy 15 days for all eligible products; 30 days for eligible products for My Best Buy Elite Members; 45 days for eligible products for My Best Buy Elite Plus members. Cell phones and devices with a carrier contract are 14 daysin all instances. No. But a photo ID is required for returns. Yes. If you don't have a receipt, you will need to bring the credit card used to purchase the item or a valid photo ID.
Costco Only on certain electronics (90 days) No Can look up transactions with membership number.
Dillard's 30 days No, if original proof-of-purchase label is attached. Maybe. Check with local store.
Kmart 30, 60 or 90 day. Depends on item. Yes. "Refunds and exchanges will not be given without receipt." Returns with a gift recipt will be exchanged or refunded with a Kmart gift card. Maybe. Check with local store.
Kohl's None No. Kohl's terms its return policy, "No questions asked, hassle-free." Yes
Lowe's 30 to 90 days, depending on the item
No. But retailer may ask for valid ID. Yes. The recipt can be retrived by using the original credit card, checking account number, My Lowe's card or by phone number.
Macy's Varies by item: As little as 7 days for specialty items, unlimited (with receipt) on others Yes, for a full return. If there's no receipt, Macy's gives a store credit for the item's lowest selling price within the last 180 days.
Yes; can look back two years with account number, a customer return label or gift registry number.
Office Depot/Office Max 14 to 90 days, depending on the item purchased. Most Office Depot/Max branded products have unlimited return time. Yes, for a full return. If no receipt, refunds limited to exact exchanges or in-store credit. "Technology products" are not eligible for return without reciept. Only if the item is still active in the computer system. Refund will be store credit. Check with local store.
Sears 30, 60 or 90 day. Depends on item. Yes. "Refunds and exchanges will not be given without receipt." Returns with a gift recipt will be exchanged or refunded with a Sears gift card. Maybe. Check with local store.
Target 90 days, with some exceptions on electronics Maybe: "Items that are opened or damaged or do not have a packing slip or receipt may be denied a refund or exchange." Yes. The store can look up recipts made with Target REDcards, major credit cards, checks (must bring a blank check from the same account) or Target gift cards.
Wal-Mart 90 days with some exceptions on electronics No, for items under $25.  With no receipt, "Walmart gives customers the option of a cash refund (if the purchase was under $25), a shopping card for the amount of the purchase (if it was over $25) or an even exchange for the product." A photo ID is required. Wal-Mart tracks the volume of returns: In the event that a customer has returned more than three items without receipts within a 45-day period, the cash register system will automatically flag the transaction, and a customer service manager or member of management must approve the return. Flags will remain for 6 months.
Chart reflects official store policies for items bought in store. Online purchases, electronics and special order purchases may have different restrictions. Check individual store policy for details.
Information gathered by CreditCards.com, accurate as of Dec. 22, 2015. Store policies are subject to change.

See related:
How to return lost, stolen gift cards, More stores moving to digital receipts

Updated: December 23, 2015


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