(By Jayne O'Donnell, USA TODAY)
That striped sweater or salt-and-pepper set turn you off? Return it online to Sears, J.C. Penney or Williams-Sonoma, and you may wait longer for a refund this year.
That's according to customer-service company StellaService, which had employees around the country do online "mystery shopping" to gauge changes in the speed of refunds.
StellaService says the timing of refunds got worse for 14 of 25 of the online retailers in the study. The speed of returns for Sears, Williams-Sonoma and J.C. Penney were among those that slowed the most since last year. While Zappos.com improved its time to process refunds by six days, Sears took 16.7 days longer.
Sears spokesman Brian Hanover says the timing was "clearly nowhere close to our standards or what we have definitively tracked for that metric over this time period." He notes StellaService names Sears.com one of the sites with the best customer service last year.
Williams-Sonoma and J.C. Penney did not respond to requests seeking comment.
StellaService CEO Jordy Leiser says it's usually inefficiency that holds up refunds. If retailers don't provide return labels, for example, products have to wind their way through the company.
There's better news for in-store shoppers - and returners. Most physical stores have kept their gift-return policies the same this year, says Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumer World, and some have actually eased them a bit.
Computers, digital cameras and other opened goods may come with restocking fees, shorter return periods or no refunds at all, Dworsky says. He says that's in part to discourage buyers from "renting" goods for the weekend and to help prevent return fraud.
Among the notable return policy changes that Consumer World found:
-- Target tightened its return policy again for computers (including tablets, netbooks and eReaders), cameras and other electronics such as game consoles and GPS units, which now must be returned in 30 days. Opened items may not get a refund or exchange at all.
-- Sears shortened its regular return policy for many product categories from 90 days to 60 days.
-- Best Buy extended its regular return period to 60 days for some Reward Zone members, but Best Buy notes the Premier Silver member - not the gift recipient - must make the return.
-- Toys R Us now accepts electronics and similar items for return even if the package was opened.
Additional return policy information for some other major retailers (sourced from Gannett affiliate KARE 11):
-- Target: normally you would have 30 days to return electronics and 90 days for most everything else. But for the holidays, if you purchased something between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24, the refund period starts on Dec. 26. You have 30 and 90 days, respectively, from that date. If you have a gift receipt, you'll get a store gift card. Without a receipt, you still might be able to return the item, but there are restrictions. For more information, go to target.com.
--Wal-Mart: if you don't have a receipt you can get store credit, and like Target, if an item is purchased after Nov. 1, the return policy kicks in Dec. 26. You have 15 days from that date to return computers, cameras and video players. For most everything else you have 90 days to return. For more information, go to walmart.com.
-- Sears: a 30-, 60- and 90-day return policy, depending on the item. Also, if purchased after Nov. 1, you have until Jan. 24 for a 30-day return. Refunds are not given without a receipt. For more information, go to sears.com.
-- Kohl's: allows you to make a return any item, any time for any reason, whether you have a receipt or not. You can get a full exchange or store credit. For more information, go to kohlscorporation.com.
-- Macy's: will allow you to return most merchandise for a full refund within 180 days of purchase. If it's a gift, you will receive a store credit. For more information, go to customerservice.macys.com.
-- Michaels: you must have a photo ID. If you have a receipt, the item must be new and no more than 60 days old. Without a receipt, refunds will be given at the item's lowest price sold within the last 90 days. For more information, go to Michaels.com.
-- Costco: computers, cameras and most electronics must be returned within 90 days. For everything else, if you're not satisfied with the product you can get a full refund. For more information, go to costco.com.
-- IKEA: items must be returned within 90 days, unused and in original packaging with a receipt. A driver's license may be required for a return. For more information, go to ikea.com.
-- Home Depot: if you have a receipt, most things can be returned within 90 days. There are some exceptions where the item must be returned within 30 days. For more information, go to homedepot.com.
-- Toys R Us: has a 90-day return policy and all items must be returned in new or like new condition, and in the original packaging with all of the paperwork and manuals. For more information, go to toysrus.com.
Watch: Where To Recycle Christmas Tree, Other household Items
USA TODAY/KARE 11