The holiday shopping season is over, which means it’s time to prepare for another annual ritual that doesn’t get as much attention: returns season.
It’s shaping up to be a busy one. UPS UPS, +0.00% says it expects to handle a record 1.9 million returns on Jan. 2, a 26% increase over last year. Nearly half — 46% — of consumers return one to three gifts over the holidays, according to research by Optoro, a returns-management platform that retailers use.
Total holiday returns this year could reach $90 to $95 billion, according to projections from B-Stock Solutions, a company that helps major retailers auction off returned merchandise to other businesses. The most frequently returned items post-holidays are “trendy” women’s clothing, toys, specialty kitchen items, and tools, a B-Stock Solutions spokeswoman told MarketWatch.
Returns can be a headache for shoppers, but it’s also worth remembering that they have an environmental impact. About 5 billion tons of returned merchandise end up in landfills every year, Optoro estimates, and an estimated 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted each year to ship returned merchandise.
See also: Cautionary tale this holiday season: Fast shipping may contribute to climate change
“When possible, shoppers should take advantage of in-store or drop-off location options so items can be aggregated and shipped together,” Optoro chief executive Tobin Moore told MarketWatch previously. “Keeping the item in good condition, preserving the original packaging, and returning quickly all decrease the likelihood of an item ending up in a landfill.”
To cut down on waste, it’s also important to know the major retailers’ return deadlines. They vary quite a bit, and come with plenty of caveats:
Walmart WMT, +0.17% America’s biggest retailer gives shoppers extra time to return many — but not all — items bought between Oct. 24, 2019 and Dec. 25, 2019. The clock starts ticking on Dec. 26 on return windows, which vary from 14 days to 90 days.
Check Walmart’s return policy for details on electronics, jewelry and clothes. Gift cards aren’t returnable, except in some states. Most toys can be returned within 90 days, but hoverboards and electric scooters must be returned within 30 days. Online purchases can be shipped back or returned in stores, but they must be returned in their original packaging, so keep your boxes.
Amazon AMZN, +1.29% : The online retail giant has made shipping fast and free, and this holiday season it’s making some returns free too. “Eligible” items that weigh less than 50 pounds and were shipped by Amazon.com between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, 2019 can be returned for free (and for a full refund) until Jan. 31, 2020, Amazon announced recently.
Customers can return items without boxes or labels at certain Amazon delivery hubs, Whole Foods stores, Kohl’s KSS, -1.94% and UPS locations. But the new return policy doesn’t apply to orders shipped by other sellers, so check the fine print here. And if someone sent you a gift from Amazon, there is a different return procedure.
Target TGT, -1.68% : Most Target purchases must be returned within 90 days, but there’s a big exception: Target-owned brand items (like Mossimo women’s clothes or Cat & Jack kids’ clothes) can be returned for a full refund up to one year later if you have the receipt. Here’s a list of Target-owned brands, and here are more details on the “super lenient” return policy.
Apple AAPL, +1.59% : Act fast if you got a new iPad for Christmas or Hanukkah and don’t want it: you may only have until Jan. 8, 2020 to return it. Usually Apple requires items to be returned within 14 days of purchase, but there’s an extended timeline for purchases made between Nov. 15 and Dec. 25, 2019, according to 9 to 5 Mac. (Apple doesn’t list this extension in its return policy and the company didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment.)
Best Buy BBY, -0.34% : “Almost every purchase made throughout November and December can be returned through Jan. 14, 2020,” Best Buy says on its website. But beware: that policy doesn’t apply to cell phones or major appliances, and some customers will be charged “restocking fees” if they return items that have been opened. Cell-phone returns generally cost $45 and returning a drone or DSLR camera will typically cost 15% of the purchase price, but there are exceptions in some states, according to the Best Buy website.
TJ Maxx TJX, +0.35% : Items purchased between Oct. 13, 2019 and Dec. 24, 2019 can be returned through Jan. 25, 2020.
Macy’s M, -2.26% : Macy’s has a 90-day return policy for most items, including “gently used” makeup and perfume. Jewelry, watches, small electronics, “social dresses,” and merchandise from Macy’s Backstage stores that were bought between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, 2019 can be returned until Jan. 31, 2020. Apple products and tech accessories bought between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31, 2019 must be returned by Jan. 8, 2020.