As retailers brace for a record number of post-Christmas returns, many have modified their return policies to help cut costs.

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“Consumers should be prepared for shorter return windows, with 42 percent of retailers planning to reduce them for the holidays,” according to the 2023 Holiday Predictions report by goTRG, a company that helps stores manage returns.

Continuing a trend that started a few years ago, more retailers are making consumers share the cost of handling their returns. Half the retailers surveyed by goTRG have introduced return fees in the past year.

Some big-name retailers have “tweaked” their return policies this year by adding or raising return-by-mail fees or shortening the return window for holiday purchases—including Amazon, Macy’s Staples, TJ Maxx, and Marshalls—according to the 2023 Return Policy Survey by Consumer World.

“Most stores continue to offer extended holiday return periods whereby gifts purchased as early as October first, such as in Walmart’s case, can be returned until mid- to late-January, considerably beyond the normal deadline, but they’re not as generous as they used to be,” said Edgar Dworsky, Consumer World’s founder.

Dworsky studied the return policies for 11 major chains and found that “return windows, in some cases, are shrinking,” and fees for mail-in returns are becoming more common. But all 11 retailers Consumer World surveyed do still provide free returns in person.

“Holiday return policies remain complex and incredibly detailed,” Dworsky told Checkbook. “There are different rules for different categories of merchandise. It’s not one size fits all, in most cases.”

The return window for electronics is typically shorter than for other merchandise, such as clothing and household goods. This is done, in part, to reduce return fraud, he said.

Key findings from this year’s annual Consumer World survey:

  • Amazon delayed the start of its holiday return policy by 21 days. Most items purchased starting November 1 can be sent back as late as January 31. Apple products purchased from Amazon now have a shorter 15-day return window, but it is extended until January 15 for holiday purchases. Amazon charges $1 for some UPS drop-offs (if an Amazon-affiliated location like Whole Foods or Kohl’s is closer). Restocking fees apply in limited cases.
  • Walmart added a new return window for major appliances: It’s now only two days. Walmart.com will no longer match the prices of other retailers.
  • Macy’s added a $9.99 return shipping fee for non-Star Rewards members. The return period for toys was shortened from 90 to 30 days.
  • Kohl’s continued its policy of not paying for return shipping by mail.
  • TJ Maxx and Marshalls raised their returns-by-mail shipping and handling fee by $1, to $11.99.
  • Staples shortened its holiday purchase window by nine days, accepting returns only until January 14 for items purchased since November 12.

Two retailers were singled out for continuing their generous return policies:

  • Target offers a one-year return period for house-branded items. Its holiday purchase window started five days earlier this year, on October 1.
  • Home Depot allows one year to return purchases made using the Home Depot credit card.

You’ll find a summary of the holiday return policies for the 11 retailers Dworsky surveyed, as well as tips for hassle-free returns, on  Consumer World’s website.

If have things you want to return, check the retailer’s rules right away to find out how long you have and if there are any charges involved. The shopping site DealNews has a list of return policies for every major retailer, as well as the 40 retailers that let you buy online and return in-store.

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Contributing editor Herb Weisbaum (“The ConsumerMan”) is an Emmy award-winning broadcaster and one of America's top consumer experts. He has been protecting consumers for more than 40 years, having covered the consumer beat for CBS News, The Today Show, and NBCNews.com. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at ConsumerMan.com.