Return Policies



Have you ever bought an item with enthusiasm, only to later feel like returning it for a full refund? Most stores in North America have a return policy where you can return any purchased item within 30 days. Customers like you have the power to return things for either a refund or an exchange. You should know the return and refund policies for things you buy or sign up for so that you can feel more confident about your purchases.

Return policies usually cover a lot of products like clothes, electronics, books, cars, and even food. Most customers love simple return policies according to latest research. If you are ever in doubt, ask the cashier or the manager about the return policy. There is always a manager or someone with similar powers on duty in almost every store in the country. If the cashier gives you an unclear answer about return policies, ask the manager for a clear answer. Return policies for online purchases are a bit different than purchases made in person. In my personal experience, most major websites usually list their return policies clearly.

Following are some time frames you should keep in mind when returning some items for a refund or for an exchange:

Time frames allowed for product returns with original receipts

  • 30 days for clothes.

    All clothing stores allow clothes to be returned within 30 days. When in doubt, ask the cashier. I know people who buy 10 dresses and shirts and then return about 8 of them on the 28th day. You should not abuse the power you have as a customer, but you should exercise the power when you feel it is necessary.

  • 14-30 days for books.

    Return time-frames for books depend on the bookstore. Ask the cashier about the return policies or look at your purchase receipt. Almost every bookstore allows book returns. If yours does not, shop elsewhere.

  • 15-30 days for electronics.

    Some stores prefer a 15-day return policy while many stores give a 30-day time frame for electronic returns. When in doubt, ask the cashier or look at the receipt.

  • 30 days for software.

    Most stores allow you to return software boxes within 30 days.

  • 15 minutes to 30 minutes for movie tickets

    If you buy a movie ticket and do not enjoy the movie, most movie theatres will provide a refund or exchange the ticket for another movie within 15 minutes if the movie you are watching is less than 2 hours long, and within 30 minutes if the movie in question is over 2 hours long. Ask your specific theatre branch manager before you walk into a movie if you are not sure.

  • Within 1 day for food items.

    Food items are treated a bit differently than all other items. If you were the manager and I brought a rotten banana to you saying “I bought a dozen bananas three weeks ago and 11 of them were bad. This is also bad. Here is my receipt and I want a refund“, you may probably wonder if you have the legal right to attack me. You can usually return food items if you go back to the store the same day, and hopefully within an hour or two of your purchase. Many restaurants with take-out dinner can also change the food for you, and so can drive-thru fast food places and pizza companies that deliver to your home.

  • Around 16 days for all over-the-phone and online purchases.

    Most online stores and over-the-phone orders allow items to be returned within 30 days. While this may sound like an incentive to use these channels to buy something, consider this: it takes about a week for such orders to arrive in the mail, and takes another week to have them shipped back and received by the company. That amounts to a total of 14 shipping days, leaving you with 16 days to decide if you want to return the item or not. Last year I got a Samsung t509 by calling T-mobile. After a major unresolved issue, the phone came less than a week before the 30-day deadline for returns. I was told that I could not return the phone anymore. Keep the shipping situation in mind when making purchases online or over the phone.

  • Around 15 days for travel tickets.

    Your airline purchase receipt should tell you how many days you have to change your mind. Some airlines charge a fee to cancel or change your reservations. When in doubt, call your airline or visit their site. JetBlue, for example, allows me to cancel or change my reservations even on the last day as long as I am willing to pay a $35 fee. The rest of the money, if any, is added to my JetBlue credit which I can use for future flights.

  • 15-30 days for services.

    Signing up with services like new cell phone plans or yearly contracts with your internet service provider also gives you the power to cancel your contract within 15 to 30 days. Some services will even refund you the money if you do not like their service. Ask your service provider for cancellation policies.

  • Around 3 days for many automobile and real estate contracts.

    Many agreements related to car and real estate leases and purchases can be legally withdrawn within 3 days. This is called the Cooling-Off rule and you should check if you can exit a contract legally.

  • 30 days for different merchandize.

    Tupperware, stationary, toys, sunglasses, beauty products and almost all other items can be returned within 30 days of their purchase.

Thus, you can return most items within 30 days to get a full refund, and some items within 2 weeks.

Things you cannot return

There are a few things you cannot return once you have purchased them. This includes gas, or petrol as many people call it. Once you put the liquid in your car, there is no known way to get a refund. You can apply the same rule to travel tickets. If you buy a train ticket, you cannot use it to get to the another city and then say “I did not enjoy the ride. Refund me some money!“, unless you have some very good reasons to back up your refund request. Items purchased directly from individuals or through classified systems usually cannot be returned either unless you have prior arrangements with the seller.

5 things to remember when returning items

Even when you return an item within the allowed time, you have to keep a few things in mind depending on the items you are returning. Following are 5 tips about returns and refunds that you should keep in mind when you want to return something for a refund or an exchange.

  1. All returns at almost any store require the original receipt, even if you throw away the name and price tags. A few stores allow exchanges if you do not have the receipt, though that policy is usually never publicized.
  2. All items you return must be in sellable condition. There is no known exception to this rule unless you return a dozen items and the store staff overlooks the condition of some items.
  3. Electronic returns vary depending on locations. Many electronic accessories like blank CDs cannot be returned if they are not in their original packing. Similarly, if you buy a computer and break the seal located on the back that allows you to open the unit itself, you will probably not be able to return the computer. Always ask the cashier when buying an electronic item if the item can be returned after you open it.
  4. Software CDs and bundles are treated differently than electronics. Software can usually be returned only if you have not opened the box. I once bought Windows XP at a Fry’s store and could not return the item the same day even when I had not used it. The returns department staff told me this reason: I had opened the plastic wrapper on the box and thus the box was considered open. Whenever you buy software, never open it unless you are fully sure. Always ask the cashier what the return policy is for the specific software you plan on buying.
  5. Food items can usually be returned if you bring back some of the food that you did not consume as a form of proof. If you buy a box of cereal and return it empty the same day saying “It did not taste good“, you will probably only get back some attention and no money. Many store managers are nice enough to even offer a replacement and a full refund if you buy something that upsets your stomach or has gone bad and you bring back a good portion of it to show to the store staff. Try to go back to the store as soon as possible and simply ask for an exchange or a refund.

The next time you want to buy something, whether it is a bottle of milk or a new computer, keep in mind the options you have if you think you might reconsider your decision later on. Please let me know if you have any questions or wish to share your own experience or points here. Thank you for reading.