Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

national survey reveals return policies that may surprise some people after the holidays. According to ConsumerWorld, some stores use a computer database to track customer returns. Typically, stores swipe the shopper's driver's license when a return is being made, and if the store's return limit is exceeded, the customer's return is denied. Most stores impose time limits on returns and many charge restocking fees.

Remember that there is no state or federal law that requires merchants to return your money or exchange an item unless merchandise is defective or misrepresented.  Here are some tips to ensure trouble-free returns:

  • Know the retailer’s policy before you buy. Know whether a sale is final or if you or the recipient of your gift can obtain a refund, exchange unwanted merchandise, or receive store credit for a future purchase. Return policies on sale and clearance items may be different than merchandise sold at full price.
  • Keep receipts. When giving a gift, ask for gift receipt and enclose it with the present. Many retailers will only refund the lowest markdown-price at which the item was sold unless you can prove you paid more.
  • Save original packaging and price tags. Some merchants won’t accept returns unless the item is in its original package. Others charge a restocking fee, especially for electronics. 
  • Look for return policies when buying online or from catalogs. Merchandise can sometimes be returned to physical stores. If not, you may be charged a shipping fee to return or exchange an item. Also, use a credit card for online and catalog purchases; if you don’t receive the merchandise, you can challenge the charge with your credit card issuer.
  • Be timely. Most merchants only accept returns for a certain period of time. If you miss the deadline, you may no longer be able to obtain a refund or store credit.


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