Money

4 stores with brilliant return policies that keep shoppers spending

A mom, right, shopping with her daughters at a JC Penney store in Aurora, Colorado.
Matthew Staver | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A mom, right, shopping with her daughters at a JC Penney store in Aurora, Colorado.

As the eggnog wears off and the non-stop holiday music changes back over to Top 40 pop hits, you may be surveying that pile of gifts you got and thinking, Hmm, that sweater really isn't my style.

You're not alone. In fact, the weeks following the winter holidays tend to be some of the busiest for retailers expecting lots of returns. But it can be hard to keep track of what stores will take back what merchandise up until what date, and organizing all of your gift receipts can be a hassle. That is, assuming your gift even came with one.

While some stores tighten their return policies around the holidays, here are a few retailers who make returning unwanted items painless — and keep customers coming back to spend more money.


Zappos

With Zappos' 365-day return policy, you don't have to decide right away if those chartreuse boots deserve the room they take up in your closet. Shipping is free, as are returns. And if you bought something on a leap year, apparently you have four years to make up your mind about it!

If someone bought you a gift on Zappos and you'd like to return it, you don't need a gift receipt, just the giver's email address and/or phone number. While the site can't give you store credit, Zappos will exchange out your item for something else on the site you pick out. Just beware that the gift swap might show up on the Zappos account of whoever bought you the gift.

Similar policies: REI, Bed Bath and Beyond


Kohl's

Unlike many stores, Kohl's has no time limits on returns. If you paid with a credit card, employees can look up the purchase with a swipe of your card and refund you. But save the receipts if you paid cash or are giving a gift! If you don't, those items will get you a merchandise exchange credit based on the item's lowest sale price.

Similar policies: Nordstrom, Anthropologie, Macy's


Asos

The clothing retailer has a 28-day return policy, which isn't ideal, but Asos is one of the few online clothing shops that allows buyers to return sale items, undergarments and swimwear.


L.L.Bean

On a July episode of NPR's "This American Life," producer Sara Corbett examined one of the craziest retailer return policies out there: L.L.Bean's. According to the Bean, you can return anything you bought at any time if you are no longer satisfied with the item.

Yep, that means that a pair of boots you bought in 1994 can be exchanged for a brand new pair in 2016, no questions asked.

The policy is intended to provide peace of mind, allowing customers to invest in high-priced items like hiking boots or tents while feeling confident that their purchases will last for years, if not decades.

But the podcast episode explores some of the ways people take advantage of the system. One L.L.Bean associate recalls working the weekend of a big music festival several years back. People came in on a Friday afternoon, bought tons of camping and outdoor equipment, and returned it Monday, caked with mud. It was obvious what was going on: People were borrowing from L.L.Bean as though it were a library. And they got away with it.

But the store argues it creates loyal customers by empowering them to decide when an item doesn't live up to L.L.Bean's promise of lifelong quality. And its return policy doesn't seem to be hurting revenue: The retailer reported $1.61 billion in sales in 2014.

Returns for refunds can only be made in L.L.Bean stores, not online.

Similar policies: Sephora, Athleta, Patagonia