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10 retailers with the worst return policies

Buy with caution when shopping at these retailers.

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No matter how much you love shopping, there’s one part of the experience you likely dread: returns. Making a return—and navigating retailers’ challenging and often confusing return policies—is pretty much a universal source of aggravation for almost all consumers.

It’s not surprising that consumers tend to be passionately loyal to stores with convenient, low-hassle return policies. On the other hand, shoppers aren’t shy about voicing their impatience with bad return policies, which can be a huge help when you're deciding where to buy that winter coat or new furniture.

But exactly what makes a bad return policy? The specifics can vary by store, but among the top complaints cited by consumers are too-short windows of time for return, too much fine print, and too many finicky exceptions to the general policy. Far too many retailers still struggle (or don't even bother) to nail down the perfect return policy that benefits their customers and their bottom line, and some of the worst offenders might surprise you.

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Here are 10 popular stores with some of the worst return policies:

1. Forever 21 has a legendary return policy (not in a good way)

Return receipt
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If you lose your receipt, you can kiss your Forever 21 return goodbye. At least it was cheap!

Forever 21 has long been notorious for their terrible return policy. In the past, you could only receive store credit for returns. That policy was recently changed—you can now receive a refund in whatever form of payment you used for the purchase. So that’s a slight improvement, but the rest of the policy is far from shopper-friendly.

All returns require a receipt—no exceptions. Items must be in brand new condition, meaning never worn and with all the labels and tags still attached. Also, plenty of items are ineligible for returns at all, including sale and clearance items, jewelry, and cosmetics.

2. Best Buy is among the worst for returns

Time is running out
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To return something at Best Buy, you better be quick about it.

If you want to return something to Best Buy, you need to act fast. Their return policy has a 15-day time limit for most items. My Best Buy Elite or Elite Plus members get a slightly longer window of time for returns. For cell phones and other items that can be activated, there’s a 14-day limit for everyone. You also need to be aware of restocking fees that are assessed on a variety of items including cell phones, camcorders, and DSLR cameras.

3. Apple requires quick returns

Shopping for a new smartphone
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Make sure you're sure before you buy, or be ready to race to your return.

Apple is another retailer that forces you to move quickly for returns. All returns must be made within two weeks, and you must have the receipt (items returned with a gift receipt will get you an Apple Store Gift Card). Also, the store reserves the right to send returned items to an “inspection at an offsite location” before processing your refund. And if you're returning anything over $750, you'll need to watch the mailbox closely for the refund they'll mail you, which is the opposiite of convenient.

4. Payless Shoes will make you pay more to return

Woman buying shoes online
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If you don't want to deal with in-store returns, Payless is not your best online shoe option.

Before you go nuts on that BOGO sales at Payless, think twice about ordering online. One of the nicer things about their return policy is that you can just take your order to any store for a return, and they refund your purchase via the method you paid, whether cash, credit, or PayPal.

But, if you paid for shipping, don’t expect to get that money back unless your item was incorrect or damaged. And if you want to return by mail? You’ll be paying shipping fees... again. If you want affordable shoes without the hassle, we recommend shopping in Payless stores only unless you’re 100% certain about the brand and fit. Or you can try Zappos, which has guaranteed free returns that are hassle-free.

5. Eddie Bauer’s return process is a bit archaic

Blank order form
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Trying to return anything to Eddie Bauer via mail requires too much paperwork.

If you order something from Eddie Bauer online, and it doesn’t fit or isn’t quite what you wanted, good luck returning it. Their return policy does cover free in-store returns, but Eddie Bauer stores aren't nearly as common a sight as Target or Walmart. So the odds that you’re close enough to one for this option to be worth it might not be in your favor.

This leaves you with one other option. Fill out a paper form that comes with your order, pop it in the mail using the included (and paid-for) shipping label, and hope for the best. While it's great that they include a shipping label rather than charging you for the return, that's where the good stuff ends. There’s no way to guarantee Eddie Bauer is even aware that you’re returning your item, let alone for you to get any verification they even received it without going out of your way to contact customer service and create your own paper trail (and even then it's a crapshoot).

Plus, because you have the fill out the form by hand, and it’s not the simplest to fill out, there’s a chance that if they do receive it, you still won’t get your money back if they can’t read your handwriting. In a world where you can file return claims online and get refunded the second your package has been scanned by a package carrier, this is the opposite of convenient.

6. Amazon can be tricky due to third-party vendors

Amazon Prime box
Credit: Amazon

Amazon's returns are actually quite easy, unless you bought something for a third-party seller.

In general, Amazon’s return policy is one of the best. You can initiate the return process online, and print out a shipping label to send your item back. Items must be returned within 30 days of delivery, in unused condition, and many include free returns, especially if you have Amazon Prime.

Here’s the tricky part: Many items available on Amazon are actually sold by third-party vendors, who have their own return policies (listed under "Seller Return Policy" on the official policy page). Be sure to review the individual seller’s return policy carefully before placing an order. Some may require you to pay the return shipping. Others may have shorter-than-normal return windows, and still others may not accept returns at all.

7. Walmart is on alert for excessive returns

Woman giving packages to man in blue shirt
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Walmart's return policies are tricky and can vary from store to store.

While Walmart’s official policy seems pretty accommodating on the surface, we’ve found that the experience—and interpretation of the rules—can vary widely from one location to another, or even from one employee to the next. The general policy allows 90 days for most returns, but I’ve had more than one employee at my local store tell me it was 30 days. If you don’t have a receipt, the store will employ a “refund verification process.”

Whether or not you have a receipt, the store reserves the right to refuse a refund. Be warned: this is one of those stores that tracks refunds made by a specific person, and can “flag” you if you make excessive returns, especially without a receipt. Also, there are quite a few items that have a much shorter return window. For example, computers, camcorders, GPS units video game systems all must be returned within 15 days with a receipt.

In addition, this is another case where you need to be careful with orders placed on the website, as many items are sold by third-party vendors with their own return policies.

8. Target is accommodating—to a point

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Save all your Target receipts or risk a return headache.

On the surface, Target’s return policy isn’t so bad. In fact, parts of it are pretty great. The fact that you have 90 days to return an unopened item if you have the receipt is a real stand-out, for example.

If you don’t have a receipt, though, things get a little trickier. First, store employees will usually try to look up the item if it was ordered online. If you (or whoever bought the item) paid with a credit card and you have the card available, they can also try to locate the purchase that way. If those tactics all fail, however, then it is up to the store’s discretion.

The official policy is that you can receive a refund in the amount of the lowest sale price for the item, and this refund will be in the form of a Target gift card. However, your experience can vary widely from one store location to another. If the item is opened or damaged, the store can decline your refund, even if you have a receipt.

Also, pay attention when ordering items through or the Target app. Much like Amazon and Walmart, Target sells many items through third-party companies called Target Storefront Partners, and they have their own individual return policies.

9. Kmart and Sears are sticklers for receipts

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Don't wait to make a return from Kmart or Sears. You might miss your chance.

Kmart's return policy is that it only gives refunds if you have a receipt, and refunds must be made within 30 days of purchase. Certain items, such as movies and computer games, can’t be returned once they are opened, unless they are defective (in which case, you can exchange them for an identical replacement). Other purchases—such as those in the Mattresses or Furniture departments—must be returned within 7 days. When ordering online, use caution with Marketplace sellers, as those items cannot be returned to a Kmart store.

Sears and Kmart are operated by the same parent company, so it makes sense that they would have similar return policies. As with Kmart, Sears will only accept refunds if you have a receipt. Most items have a 30-day return window, and a restocking fee may be applied for certain items.

10. Barnes & Noble won’t accept items you’ve already used

Woman taking books from a box
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If you so much as crack the cover of a new book, Barnes & Noble will not let you return it.

Items bought at a Barnes & Noble store must be returned with a receipt within 14 days and show no signs of use or wear, according to their return policy. If you buy something from the Barnes & Noble website, it must be returned in original condition (meaning, still shrink-wrapped or in any original packaging). While this is likely in place so people don’t treat the bookstore as a library, it can still be a hassle when you have a legitimate return.