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Published: Dec 25, 2021 8 min read
People form a queue line inside a Best Buy store
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Perhaps you received exactly what you wanted as holiday gifts this year. But then again, maybe not. If you're not thrilled with a present you got, now's the time to figure out how to return or exchange it.

While you can’t put a price tag on the thoughtfulness of the person who gave you a gift, you can put a value on one you unwrap. So why not return it and get something you really want, or possibly just bring it back for cash? Your friends and family never need to know.

The good thing is that most retailers extend their return policies during the holiday season. Retailer return policies vary widely, but many normally allow full refunds for returns of unopened merchandise if they're made within 30 days of the purchase. During the holiday season, however, the window for returns and exchanges is sometimes extended to 90 days, and the return period begins after Christmas rather than the day the purchase was made.

In other words, some holiday gift return deadlines are as late as March 2022, and sometimes even go later. But it's important to check the fine print because every retailer's return policy is different. Some have holiday return deadlines in early January, and the typical cutoff is mid-to-late January — and some items might not be returnable at all.

Holiday gift returns: What do I need?

Every retailer sets its own return policies. First, confirm where the item was purchased (hopefully the present came with a gift receipt), and then visit the retailer's website or call for specifics on how to return it.

In most cases, to get the most out of a retailer's return policies, you’ll need a receipt, and the item must be unopened. But you may be able to make an exchange or return an item for store credit even if you can't meet this criteria.

Some retailers offer a full refund, store credit, or a gift card valued at the purchase price. If you simply want to return a gifts, it may not make sense to ask for a refund since the money would generally go to the purchaser (assuming it was made by debit or credit card).

Extended holiday return policies

Throughout the year, many major retailers offer standard 30-day return policies for most items. But because stores know that holiday purchases are often made early and that not everyone is going to want to keep their gifts, return policies are a bit more generous during this time of year.

Here are some big retailers that have extended return deadlines for the 2021 holiday season:

Walmart: 90-day return period beginning Dec. 26 for items sold or shipped by Walmart from Nov. 1 through Dec. 25.

Target: 90-day return period beginning Dec. 26 for unopened items purchased Oct.1 through Dec. 25.

Amazon: Jan. 31, 2022 return deadline for most items purchased directly through Amazon from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31.

Best Buy: Jan. 16, 2022 return deadline for non-third-party purchases made from Oct. 18 through Jan. 2, 2022.

GameStop: Return deadline is either January 15, 2022 or 30 days from purchase date for items purchased after Oct. 31 (receipt or online order number is needed).

Best retailer return policies

While some retailers offer extended returns around the holidays, others have generous policies available year-round.

Here are a few notable mentions, which offer full returns for one year on most purchases:

  • American Girl: 1 year
  • IKEA: 1 year
  • Zappos: 1 year
  • LL Bean: 1 Year
  • REI: 1 year

Holiday return policy fine print

As with anything involving money, it’s important to read the fine print. Visit retailer websites for the specifics on their return policies. Some have hair-raising exceptions and surprisingly short return periods for certain items.

For example, Best Buy's extended holiday policy doesn't apply to all products. Best Buy has a 14-day return policy on “activatable devices” like cell phones, cellular tablets and cellular wearables. What's more, the 14-day period begins on the day the customer acquired the product. In other words, a cell phone might be unreturnable if someone gave it to you on Christmas day, but it was delivered or purchased in a Best Buy store more than two weeks earlier. Holiday items like artificial trees have a 15-day return policy at Best Buy, starting from the date the customer acquired the product.

Sometimes there are fees involved in returns too. Best Buy charges a $45 restocking fee for returning activatables. The restocking fee for returning Best Buy items like drones, DSLR cameras and lenses and electric bikes is 15% of the purchase price.

Meanwhile, the fine print of Target's policy explains that there is a 15-day refund period beginning on Dec. 26 for all Apple products (excluding mobile phones) purchased between Oct. 1 and Dec. 25, while most other items purchased at Target can be returned up to 90 days after Dec. 26. Similarly, for mobile phones purchased from Target in-store or online via Order Pickup from Oct. 1 to Dec. 25, a 14-day return period starts Dec. 26, and they must be returned no later than Jan. 8, 2022.

Moreover, it's important to note that a retailer’s official return policies usually don’t apply to orders fulfilled by third-parties. For example, Amazon, which sells plenty of merchandise via third-party sellers, states that these vendors set their own return policies, which can be accessed online in the “My orders'' section of the account that placed the order.

As for the return policy at Walmart, third-party sellers on the Walmart Marketplace also set their own return policies. However, Walmart Marketplace sellers must offer a minimum return policy of 14 days for electronics and luxury items and 30 days for other items.

6 tips for returning holiday gifts

You don’t want to make returning gifts as stressful as holiday shopping. So here are some pointers to make the process as smooth as possible.

  • Confirm where the gift was purchased.
  • Visit retailer’s website or call for specific return policies.
  • Keep the receipt or ask for one.
  • Don’t open the gift or rip off tags.
  • If you opened it, make sure you put it back in the original packaging along with all parts.
  • Check the retailer’s website or call for specific policies on mailing back gifts (often there's a form to fill out).
  • Make sure your local store accepts returns if you’re going this route. Some stores don't allow returns for items ordered online.

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