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Retailers with the best (and worst) return policies

Not so fond of that fondue pot?

Even with the best intentions, some gifts can fall very, very flat. Trying to take them back can be tricky.

At most retailers, items can be returned with a receipt for credit or a gift card, but the return window varies from store to store — with most averaging four to six weeks.

Without a receipt, any credit you receive could likely be at an item's current price rather than the purchase price — if a return is permissible at all. (About 66 percent of consumers include a gift receipt at least some of the time, according to the National Retail Federation.) Some, like at Sears, have special holiday return policies.

Holiday shoppers at Macy's in New York
Getty Images
Holiday shoppers at Macy's in New York

Overall, retailers have been getting more flexible with their return policies in recent years, yet some are more lenient than others.

There's still just a two-week window at Apple and Barnes & Noble (although both offer an extension over the holidays) while other retailers, such as Zappos, Macy's and J.C. Penney, offer a full year to return an item. At LL Bean, Nordstrom and Bed Bath & Beyond, the return window is even longer. (Check out the chart below for a rundown of some return policies.)

Gift return policies

Zara 1 month All refunds are credited to the original form of payment or a gift card.
Old Navy Gap Banana Republic 45 days Gifts returned with gift receipt will receive a gift card in the amount of the purchase price. Gifts returned without gift receipt will receive a merchandise certificate by mail in the amount of the current selling price.
Ann Taylor 45 days All refunds are credited to the original form of payment or a gift card.
Lord & Taylor 90 days Without a receipt, returns are issued at the lowest selling price as a store credit.
Macy's 1 year All refunds are credited to the original form of payment or a "Happy Returns" gift card.
Nordstrom No time limits for returns or exchanges.  All refunds are credited to the original form of payment or a gift card.
Source: WSL Strategic Retail

Still, the pressure is on stores to loosen up, so as not to alienate shoppers with a short return window or hefty restocking fee, which are considered "stingy," according to Benjamin Glaser, the features editor with DealNews. Glaser cautions shoppers to keep an eye out regarding return policies while shopping, particularly over the holidays — and to include a gift receipt with any gift given.

A whopping 97 percent of consumers said that the return process is important to their future intentions to shop with a retailer, according to a separate report by technology firm Voxware.

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