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Store return policies are NOT the law

There is no law – federal, state or local – that requires retailers to have return policies.

That’s why they’re called policies. They are the policies of the stores themselves, not local sales ordinances or statutes. Stores can offer whatever return policies they want, including none at all. Retailers are allowed to deny cash for returns, offering store credit or gift cards instead. They also have every right to ask to see your identification on a return, particularly of an expensive electronic item or appliance.

Don’t blame the stores or their corporate parents. Blame thieves who cost American retailers $15.5 BILLION a year in return fraud, according to the National Retail Federation. Thieves can make fake receipts or attempt to return stolen merchandise without receipts, hoping to score either cash (including the state or local sales tax that was never paid on that stolen item) or a gift card they can flip for cash at a third-party gift card exchange.

When I was working for a Memphis TV station, a Mid-South Walmart store manager who asked not to be identified told me he saw the same $27 TV cable cross his customer service desk ten times. In one month.

Is it any wonder stores are cracking down on return policies? Returns can be hassles. They can be fraudulent — and fraudulent returns of stolen merchandise drive up the cost of that merchandise. You and I pay that extra cost in higher prices.

Now I said there are no laws governing retail return policies, but there are rules — standards that most all retailers who have return policies should honor:

  • Stores must disclose their return policies in areas where customers can see them. Typically, that would be a sign at the entrance or exit, a written notice at the point of sale or a policy disclosure printed on the customers’ receipts.
  • Stores may offer time limits on their return policies:  30-days, 60-days, 90-days, as long as those limits are disclosed.
  • Stores can and do refuse cash on returns. In fact, there are very few retailers left who offer cash for returned merchandise.
  • If you’re returning an electronics item, the retailer may charge up to a 15 percent restocking fee if the item has been removed from its original box.
  • County or city health regulations may prohibit the return of certain apparel, like underwear, swimwear or intimate garments.

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