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The 4 best (and worst) return policies this holiday shopping season

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Lucy Nicholson/Reuters/File

(Read caption) A woman fills her car with gas from Costco in Los Angeles, California, in this 2011 file photo. According to Bowsher, Costco boasts one of the best return policies among retailers for the holidays.

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If you fail to read a store’s return policy before shopping there, you could get stuck with an item that doesn’t work out. But if you fail to read return policies before gift shopping, it’s a friend or relative who could get stuck with an unwanted item.

Fortunately, just about every store’s return policy can be found online these days, and they’re not hard to read if you know what questions to ask…

How to interpret a return policy

In-store purchases

  1. What’s the time window for return? This is especially important for gifts. For example, if you buy a Christmas gift on Black Friday from a store with a 30-day return window, the recipient won’t be able to return it after Christmas.
  2. Will the refund be in the original form of payment? Some stores issue certain refunds only in the form of store credit – especially for gift returns.

Online purchases

  1. What’s the time window for return?
  2. If you return an online purchase by mail, will you have to pay for the return shipping? (And will the refund be in the original form of payment?) Most stores will make you pay to ship a return, which is why the next question is important.
  3. Are online purchases returnable to brick-and-mortar stores? (And will the refund be in the original form of payment?)
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The best return policies

The following stores offer a return window of at least 90 days, provide a full refund, and allow online purchases to be returned to stores…

Costco

L.L. Bean

Nordstrom

Zappos.com

Worst return policies

If a gift recipient wants to return your gift, these stores will only offer them store credit, so make sure the gift recipient is a fan of the store or avoid gift-shopping there…

Babies R Us

Kohl’s

Macy’s

Toys R Us

Karla Bowsher covers consumer, retail, and health issues for Money Talks News, a consumer/personal finance TV news feature that airs in about 80 cities as well as around the Web. This column first appeared in Money Talks News.

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