Shopping for other people is difficult, says Consumer Reports. That's why it's important to pay attention to return policies when you're shopping, just in case things don't work out.

Consumer Reports' resident shopping experts took a good look at customer-service policies for several major retailers.

Best in the business

The following retailers have the best return policies Consumer Reports has seen.

• Costco. "100 percent satisfaction guaranteed. We guarantee your satisfaction on every product we sell with a full refund. We will refund your membership fee ($55) in full at any time if you are dissatisfied." There's no time limit for returning most items; for electronics, there's a very liberal 90-day limit from the purchase date.

• Eddie Bauer. "Every item we sell will give you complete satisfaction or you may return it for a full refund." That means any time.

• Harry & David. "You and those who receive your gifts must be delighted, or we'll make it right with either an appropriate replacement or refund. Always. Everything's guaranteed. No cutting corners. No fudging on quality. No excuses."

• Lands' End. If you're dissatisfied with any item, from sheets to slacks, return it anytime for a refund or exchange. The policy states: "We mean every word of it. Whatever. Whenever. Always. But to make sure this is perfectly clear, we've decided to simplify it further: Guaranteed. Period."


• Kohl's. Its "no questions asked, hassle-free" return policy for all purchases has no time limit. No receipt? No problem. Just go to a customer-service counter with the item for an exchange or store credit equal to the lowest price the item sold for in the past 13 weeks. That is, unless you paid with your Kohl's charge card. Associates can look up any order within 12 months and credit your account. Items bought with other credit cards or returned after the 12-month time frame earn you store credit.

• L.L.Bean. "Our products are guaranteed to give 100 percent satisfaction in every way. Return anything purchased from us at any time if it proves otherwise."

• Orvis. "We will refund your money on any purchase that isn't 100 percent satisfactory. Anytime, for any reason. It's that simple."

• Zappos. Free shipping on all domestic orders and free prepaid returns for up to a year, as long as the items are in their original condition.

Tough customers

Consumer Reports identified these merchants that have different rules and timetables for different products, and they refuse to take back some items.

• Abe's of Maine. Its stingy 14-day return policy is loaded with exceptions: No returns on TVs larger than 24 inches, fitness equipment, large appliances and more. If you cancel an order — even before it ships — Abe's may stick you with a processing fee of as much as 3.5 percent of the item's purchase price.

• American Apparel. Items can be returned within 45 days, but the chain refuses to take back sale merchandise. Also not returnable: swimwear, intimate apparel, cosmetics and grooming products, and any item that's been laundered. So if the colors run, you're out of luck.

• Forever 21. The apparel merchant has a significantly different policy for online and in-store returns. If you return an item to a retail location, you're limited to an exchange or credit. If you mail it back, you can get an actual refund, but you're also required to pay for return shipping.

• Gamestop. You have 30 days from purchase or the date on the packing slip, only with a receipt. The video-gaming giant reserves the right to limit returns to unopened or defective products.

• Sears and Kmart. Those sister chains state, flat-out, that "refunds and exchanges will not be given without receipt." With a receipt, there's a 30-day return deadline for most products. At Sears, electronics, heaters, grills and furniture are subject to a 15 percent restocking fee.

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