Bamboozled December 29, 2016: Has your favorite retailer changed its return policy?

Bloomberg photo by Michael Nagle.JPG
Don’t be surprised if your favorite retailer’s return policy has changed. (Michael Nagle/Bloomberg)
We hope you got everything you wanted this holiday season.

But just in case you aren’t fond of that sweater from Aunt Bessie or those underwear from Grannie, be sure to know a retailer’s return policy before you head to the store.

In its annual survey about return policies, ConsumerWorld.org found some large retailers with previously generous return policies are now giving consumers less time to return unwanted merchandise.

The news wasn’t all bad. The survey found most return policies have remained the same as last year, with a few making their return policies more lenient and consumer-friendly.

Then there are the policies that are just confusing.

“For me, any policy that has different return windows for different categories of items is confusing for consumers,” said Edgar Dworsky, founder and editor of Consumer World.

For example, some retailers have shorter return periods for electronics. Some have restocking fees or even limited return rights for opened products or those missing original packaging.

Those “slice and dice” return policies mean lots of consumers will be disappointed when they try to return an item.

Dworsky said some policies are confusing, and 12 he examined totaled more than 26,000 words and 79 pages of fine print.

“When you have separate policies for different types of items, and the policy runs on for pages and pages online, most shoppers’ eyes glaze over,” Dworsky said. “It also makes it difficult for shoppers at the point of sale to easily comprehend what the return rules are for the particular item they are buying.”

There were also some surprises.

It seems Toys”R”Us is violating state law, which says all return policies must be posted. Bamboozled found last year that while the retailer requires the scan of your driver’s license for a return, the policy only says you have to present the identification — not have it scanned. That policy hasn’t changed.

Why you should ask questions before you allow a merchant to scan your driver’s license.

Dworsky found a new problem for Toys”R”Us, which he calls the company’s “secret” holiday return policy.

This is what a spokesperson told Dworsky:

“Items purchased on or after September 1, 2016 may be returned through January 28, 2017 accompanied by a sales or gift receipt or online packing slip. Select Electronics & Entertainment items (computer hardware such as eReaders, netbooks, and tablets), as well as video game hardware, personal DVD players, digital cameras, camcorders, digital audio players, [no-contract] cell phones and baby monitors purchased on or after November 1, 2016 may be returned or exchanged until January 28, 2017 when accompanied by a sales or gift receipt or online packaging slip.”

The policy is posted online, but Dworsky said it was not posted in the stores he checked.**  And, store employees who were asked about the policy didn’t know about it, he said.

MANY HAPPY RETURNS

In general, Dworsky said, you shouldn’t fight the crowds to return your items immediately after Christmas.

Instead, be prepared.

“To improve your chances of getting full credit, provide a sales slip or gift receipt, return the item in new condition, unopened, and with all packaging material,” he said. “Returns without a receipt are subject to the posted return policy, which might result in your receiving only a merchandise credit for the lowest price the item has sold for recently, or possibly no refund or exchange at all.”

If you have a gift receipt, have realistic expectations.

Don’t expect a cash refund, he said.

“The gift receipt assures that you will not get less than what the gift purchaser paid, but that will be in the form of an exchange for equal value, or a merchandise credit,” Dworsky said. “Only the original purchaser can get a refund in the manner in which the item was paid for.”

Let us know if you find any trouble at the return counters.

** The original post said the study reported the Toys”R”Us holiday return policy was not posted online, when in fact, it is, under the extended return policysection. You must click the “What is your extended return policy?” link to read the policy.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. Find Bamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.

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