Need to return a gift? Here are major retailers' policies

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

Tamara E. Holmes
Personal Finance Writer
Writes regularly about personal finance and health

Retailers' return policies

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 receive a credit on your card’s statement.

Many stores extend 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. 14, 2018, even if they were bought as early as Oct. 29, 2017.

If you don’t get satisfaction from the retailer, you still have options.Some Mastercard and American Express cards have return assistance programs. Discover is ending its return guarantee program at the end of February 2017. Visa once offered return assistance, but no longer does. Instead, Visa 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.

  • Discover Return Guarantee: This will refund the purchase price up to $500 on eligible items if the original store will not accept your return within 90 days of purchase. This program ends Feb. 28, 2017.
  • American Express Return Protection: If your request is approved, American Express will reimburse you for the purchase price of your item, up to $300, plus the cost of shipping the item to American Express.
  • Visa Purchase Security: If your request is approved, American Express will reimburse you for the purchase price of your item, up to $300, plus the cost of shipping the item to American Express.
  • Mastercard Satisfaction Guarantee: In 2014, Mastercard dropped return assistance as a “core benefit” available on all cards. Individual Mastercards may still offer it. Call your issuer or read the card’s list of benefits.

Below is a summary of 12 major retailers’ return and receipt policies.

Major retailers' return, receipt policies

Store Date restrictions Receipt required? Credit transation look up without receipt?
Barnes & Noble 14 days. Ebooks and other digital content cannot be returned. Yes. Packing slip can be shown in lieu of receipt. Maybe. Check with local 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. Cellphones and devices with a carrier contract are 14 days in all instances. No, but a photo ID is required for all returns that lack proof of purchase. 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 Varies based on product. 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 days typically but depends on the item. Yes. Refunds and exchanges will not be given without receipt. Returns with a gift receipt will be exchanged or refunded with a Kmart gift card. Maybe. Check with local store.
Kohl’s None, though “premium electronics” must be returned within 30 days. No. Yes.
Lowe’s Up to 90 days, depending on the item. No but retailer may ask for valid ID. Yes. The receipt can be retrieved 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 to 180 days on others. No, but you must have proof of purchase, which can be the credit card you used to purchase the item or the packing slip, for a full return. If there’s no proof of purchase, Macy’s gives a store credit for the item’s lowest selling price within the past 180 days. Yes.
Office Depot / Office Max 14 to 90 days, depending on the item purchased. Most Office Depot / Office Max branded products have unlimited return time. Yes, for a full return. If no receipt, valid ID is needed and refunds are limited to exact exchanges or in-store credit. Technology products are not eligible for return without a receipt. Only if the item is still active in the computer system. Refund will be store credit. Check with local store.
Sears Typically 30 days, but depends on the item. Yes. Returns with a gift receipt will be exchanged or refunded with a Sears gift card. Maybe. Check with local store.
Target 90 days, with some exceptions on electronics. No. “If your original receipt isn’t available, you may receive a merchandise return card for your refund in store.” A merchandise return card is an in-store credit. Yes, with valid ID. The store can look up receipts made with Target REDcards, major credit cards, checks (must bring a blank check from the same account) or Target gift cards.
Walmart 90 days, with some exceptions on cellular devices and electronics, which are limited to 14 and 15 days. No, but the customer must show valid government issued ID. With no receipt, Walmart gives customers the option of a cash refund (if the purchase was under $25), a shopping/gift card for the amount of the purchase (if it was $25 or more) or an even exchange for the product. Maybe. Check with local store. Walmart has a refund verification process where it tracks the volume of an individual’s returns by storing information from the customer ID in a secured database of returns activity. Walmart may decline a return if the customer fails the refund verification process.
Store Date restrictions Receipt required?
Barnes & Noble 14 days. Ebooks and other digital content cannot be returned. Yes. Packing slip can be shown in lieu of receipt.
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. Cellphones and devices with a carrier contract are 14 days in all instances. No, but a photo ID is required for all returns that lack proof of purchase.
Costco Varies based on product. No
Dillard’s 30 days No, if original proof-of-purchase label is attached.
Kmart 30 days typically but depends on the item. Yes. Refunds and exchanges will not be given without receipt. Returns with a gift receipt will be exchanged or refunded with a Kmart gift card.
Kohl’s None, though “premium electronics” must be returned within 30 days. No.
Lowe’s Up to 90 days, depending on the item. No but retailer may ask for valid ID.
Macy’s Varies by item: As little as 7 days for specialty items to 180 days on others. No, but you must have proof of purchase, which can be the credit card you used to purchase the item or the packing slip, for a full return. If there’s no proof of purchase, Macy’s gives a store credit for the item’s lowest selling price within the past 180 days.
Office Depot / Office Max 14 to 90 days, depending on the item purchased. Most Office Depot / Office Max branded products have unlimited return time. Yes, for a full return. If no receipt, valid ID is needed and refunds are limited to exact exchanges or in-store credit. Technology products are not eligible for return without a receipt.
Sears Typically 30 days, but depends on the item. Yes. Returns with a gift receipt will be exchanged or refunded with a Sears gift card.
Target 90 days, with some exceptions on electronics. No. “If your original receipt isn’t available, you may receive a merchandise return card for your refund in store.” A merchandise return card is an in-store credit.
Walmart 90 days, with some exceptions on cellular devices and electronics, which are limited to 14 and 15 days. No, but the customer must show valid government issued ID. With no receipt, Walmart gives customers the option of a cash refund (if the purchase was under $25), a shopping/gift card for the amount of the purchase (if it was $25 or more) or an even exchange for the product.

See related: How to return lost, stolen gift cards, 10 tips to simplify online shopping returns


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Updated: 12-09-2018