Whether it's an ill-fitting sweater or an unwanted video game, everyone is bound to make a few gift-giving mistakes this holiday season.
But before you head to the mall — or your local UPS — with your unwanted gift, we've rounded up the return policies for some of the Internet's biggest tech retailers. From Amazon to Newegg, find out who charges restocking fees, who offers free return shipping, and what items you're allowed to return in the first place.
When it comes to return policies, tech gear often faces stricter rules than other products. For instance, some technology items can only be returned before a certain number of days (such as 15 days), instead of within the store's regular return period (which is typically 30 to 90 days). Items such as digital cameras and laptops, which can be "wardrobed" (used for a special occasion and then returned), usually have a restocking fee, which can be as high as 25 percent. To avoid piracy, some opened items (such as software and video games) can only be returned if defective, and even then, only for a replacement copy.
Even with customer-friendly return policies, there are still a few important factors to keep in mind: A refund is practically impossible without a receipt. Even if you manage to get a store credit, you’ll get one for the lowest price at which your item has been sold. For example, if your $800 HDTV sold for $500 on Black Friday, the best you could hope for is a $500 store credit (regardless of what you paid when you bought the item). If you’re returning an item to upgrade to a more expensive one, some merchants will waive restocking fees (particularly if you insist). Use care when opening any item. If a returned item can still be sold as new, this gives you a bargaining chip when asking for a restocking fee to be waived or when asking for a refund versus store credit.
Amazon is the nation’s largest e-tailer, with annual sales that crush its nearest competitors. Amazon's return policy is generally 30 days for items sold by Amazon or Amazon Warehouse. Third party vendors may have their own policies. Of course, there are some product restrictions that you should keep in mind. For example, cameras and computers must be returned within 30 days and computers with opened boxes are subject to a 15 percent restocking fee. This policy, which includes Apple computers, is one of the industry’s more relaxed camera and computer return policies. Note that Amazon’s many third-party merchants each has its own return policy.
The Apple Store can be a bit of a Scrooge during the holidays, and although the company’s standard restocking fee has been lowered from 15 percent to 10 percent, the stingy reputation is not likely to change. The online policy is called the "return-and-refund policy," which at least implies that refunds are available. However, the retail policy explicitly denies refunds, by stating “If the item is returned in the original box, unopened, with the original packaging, we will exchange it or offer you an Apple Gift Card. Also note that the Apple store charges a 10% restocking fee for virtually every return. But the truly disturbing part is this quote: "Please note that Apple does not permit the return of or offer refunds for the following products: Product that is custom configured to your specifications, including personalized products..." So, beware if you're buying a customized MacBook Pro or iMac.
Apple Online Store Holiday Return Policy
Apple Retail Store Holiday Return Policy
Best Buy stores and BestBuy.com have lenient holiday return policies. Product exceptions (monitors, projectors, digital cameras, camcorders, radar detectors, and used video games) have a return deadline of 14 days. That’s somewhat understandable, since some of these products fall into the “wardrobing” category: merchandise that can be bought, used during a vacation, and then returned as defective or unwanted. Best Buy’s exception policy for computers is a bit harder to understand. For desktop and laptop computers, you essentially have 14 days to return the item. If you bought a computer as a gift on Black Friday, your return period has already expired, even before Christmas. Best Buy’s policy goes on to state that “These exceptions are subject to the terms of our standard online return policy." Since the standard policy calls for restocking fees for desktop and laptop computers, this basically amounts to Best Buy having no holiday return policy for computers. Bah, humbug indeed.
Best Buy Stores and BestBuy.com Holiday Return Policy
Costco.com and Cost Wholesale (Costco’s brick-and-mortar stores) may well have the most customer-friendly return policy in all of retail. There is no special holiday return policy, but none is needed. Costco’s policy states "We guarantee your satisfaction on every product we sell with a full refund. Exceptions: Televisions, projectors, computers, cameras, camcorders, iPod/MP3 players, and cellular phones must be returned within 90 days of purchase for a refund." The 90-day policy for wardrobable merchandise and higher-end electronics is the most generous we’ve seen. Also, there are no restocking fees on these items. As for other items, the policy is open ended, with returns beyond 90 days left to management's discretion. Returning an unopened item, or at least an item in original condition and packaging, would certainly seem to give you the best chance of taking advantage of the greater-than-90-days return option. This policy applies to online and in-store purchases.
Costco Return Policy
Newegg.com operates exclusively as a Web business. Although it has no specific holiday return policy, its standard policy is generally considered more flexible than that of typical e-tailers. Newegg’s standard return policy offers a 30-day refund period and a one-year replacement period. Non-defective products are subject to a 15 percent restocking fee. Various specialty items have more restrictive return periods (for example, CPUs have seven-day refund coverage and 30-day replacement coverage). Unfortunately, its computer return policy is far more restrictive than that of typical retailers, offering no refunds and 30-day replacement for defective products only. HDTVs are covered under a policy similar to the computer policy.
Newegg’s Return Policy
Target does not have a holiday return policy and instead uses its standard return policy throughout the year. Target stores and Target.com allow 90 days for most returns. The usual items (music, movies, video games, and software), plus "collectables," must be returned unopened. A 15 percent restocking fee is applied to typical wardrobing items including camcorders, digital cameras, portable DVD players, and portable electronics. While there is no special holiday policy, Target shoppers seem to come out better than shoppers at many retailers with a special policy, since Target’s standard policy is so lenient. Particularly noteworthy is that most of Target’s computers are covered by the 90-day policy, which ties the policy of Costco and blows away the policies of everyone else in retail.
Target Stores Return Policy
Target.com Return Policy (when returning a Target.com purchase to a Target store)
Target.com Return Policy (when returning a Target.com purchase to Target.com):
Walmart stores and Walmart.com’s return policies allow 90 days for general merchandise, with 45-, 30-, and 15-day exceptions. Merchandise that must be returned within 45 days includes computer components and accessories (but not computers), while 30-day returns include camcorders and digital cameras and 15-day returns include computers, postpaid cell phones, GPS units, and portable video players. For any return without a receipt, the amount is placed on a Walmart gift card. This policy applies to both Walmart stores and Walmart.com. The fact that the return clock on exception items starts ticking the day after Christmas will be a useful holiday return policy for many shoppers.
Walmart Stores Return Policy
Walmart.com Return Policy