10 Surprising Things You Can Return To Retailers

A woman carries many shopping bags in this Al generated illustration.
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Mixed paint. Sweaty workout clothes. An open bottle of wine. A number of retailers will accept returns like these and many more. It pays to know a store’s return policy, whether a brick and mortar location or online.

Then there are also the unwritten rules and case-by-case situations left up to the discretion of managers and customer service reps. It never hurts to ask. Even a dopped and shattered bottle of wine can be replaced at no charge if you go about it smartly.

Who Knew You Could Return That?

1. Worn Athleta Workout Clothes

Forget that old rule at the mall that to return clothes, you must leave the original tags attached.

Exercise clothier Athleta offers its customers a pretty impressive Give-It-a-Workout-Guarantee. Customers can actually wear clothes for a workout (or even a trip to the mall) and if they don’t like how they feel or perform, return them for a full refund within 60 days.

2. Used Bath & Body Works Soaps and Lotions

The sweet scented store lets customers return even opened products, a.k.a. used products, for a full refund within 90 days with a receipt.

Without a sales receipt you can get a merchandise credit for items purchased based on the lowest selling price of the product.

3. A Custom Can of Paint

Home improvement giants Lowe’s and Home Depot both let you return mixed paint if it ends up on your walls and you decide you don’t like the color. Just exchange it for another color.

4. Assembled or Partially Assembled IKEA Furniture

Under IKEA’s new buy back program  for gently used items, assembled furniture, partially assembled furniture and used furniture can be sold back to the retailer. You won’t get full price, but it’s better than giving or throwing it away if you need cash.

The buy back program is part of Ikea’s goal to become fully carbon neutral by 2030. It will offer 30% to 50% of the original price of products in gift cards based on their condition.

You can use the retailer’s estimator to find out what your item might bring then take it to the nearest store.

5. Dead Shrubs

Can’t keep your lush yard alive? Good news! Home Depot and Lowe’s also allow customers to return dead trees and shrubs up to a year after they were bought. Just make sure to keep your receipt!. This goes for perennials, too.

6. Used Makeup

Many stores that sell makeup have generous return policies that allow customers to try a little of this and some of that and then return the remaining product for a gift card, store credit or exchange it if they don’t love how they look.

You can return makeup to many retailers including higher-end stores such as Nordstrom, Macy’s, and Sephora, as well as good ole’ Walgreens, Target and CVS.

So go ahead and take a risk on that midnight blue eye shadow or extra long lash mascara.

7. Food Items

Yep. If you get to the bottom of that bag of tangerines and three are mushy or molded, take the bag back for a store credit or refund. Most grocers happily replace fresh produce that’s not as fresh as you want once you get it home.

Some grocery stores will also take back opened food items such as a bag of chips, box of brownies or container of hummus simply because it doesn’t thrill your tastebuds. Trader Joe’s is known for encouraging shoppers to buy something to try it, and bring it back for a store credit, exchange or even a full refund.

pouring white wine into glass
Alexandra Vincent/The Penny Hoarder

8. Opened Bottles of Wine

It’s often on a case by case basis. But many independent wine shops and some chains will let you return a bottle of wine after it’s opened if you don’t like it.

At Total Wine & More, the largest independent retailer of wine, the return of opened products are up to the discretion of the store manager, according to a company employee. Often a manager will replace most purchases with a similarly priced product or store credit.

Now, don’t go asking for a refund or exchange if there’s barely an ounce left. But if you pour a glass or two and just don’t like the taste, put a cork in it and get started on the return process.

9. Personalized Uniforms from Lands’ End

Lands’ End, the longtime online retailer, is also a uniform supplier for hundreds of schools around the country. It offers a great perk for busy parents trying to get their kids in the right gear.

You can return uniforms that are personalized with your school’s logo for a Lands’ End merchandise credit. That really comes in handy if you are ordering multiple shirts for multiple kids and they don’t fit right when they arrive.

10. Almost Anything From Costco

Not only do they have low prices, Costco, Sam’s Club and BJ’s Wholesale Club all have very generous return policies, including open food and a refund on membership fee if you aren’t satisfied.

Costco and Sam’s Club have no time limit on most return items. But be sure to read the fine print because there are a few exceptions for premium electronics, major appliances, tires, cigarettes, alcohol and other items. BJ’s limits its returns to a year.

Here's a list of stores with the best return policies we could find. Some even offer free return shipping.

And Then There’s the Wiggle Room

Maybe you are a few weeks outside the 12-month time limit to return shoes to Zappos. Or you let a bottle of $15 Sonoma Cutrer drop to the pavement and bust outside the grocery store. Or you just can’t put your hands on that gift receipt.

Just because there’s no return policy stating you can get a refund or replacement, it never hurts to ask.

7 Tips For Returning Something That’s Not Returnable Under A Store’s Return Policy

 1. Ask. Don’t tell.

Acknowledge you are asking for a longshot but you just want to give it a try. Remember your ultimate objective is to get some money back for an unwanted item purchased, not prove you’re right.

2. Humor goes a long way.

Make a funny comment about your bad luck or forgetful mind. Again, show the error is on you and not the store’s policy.

3. A receipt goes even further.

Even if it’s crinkled and has a few ketchup stains, a receipt shows you aren’t attempting to make fraudulent returns. If the purchase  was online, try to dig up a confirmation from your email if you can’t find the receipt that came in the box.

4. Suggest a store credit or exchange.

That’s more likely than a cash or credit card refund.

5. Try, try again.

If you get a “no” or the first person you ask says they don’t have the ability to make the call, ask very nicely if you could plead your case to a supervisor.

6. Plead nicely.

Don’t blame the first person you ask. Remember this is not a “good cop-bad cop” situation. Acknowledge that everyone is being patient and trying to give you a good customer experience.

7. Offer thanks either way.

If you try to return items outside the store’s time limit and walk out with a refund check, tell the deciding employee to expect some good karma. Even if they say no, you should still thank them for not laughing you out of the store.

Based on Personal Experience

Yes, I’m that person who walked back into Publix with a plastic bag holding a broken bottle of Chardonnay minutes after I bought it. I showed the damage and my receipt to the associate at the customer service desk, mentioned that it’s the expected finish to a tough day, and asked if they ever replace broken products. She smiled and told me to go get another bottle.

I’m also the one who unearthed a pair of $50 never-worn shoes that didn’t fit from under my bed 14 months after I ordered them on Zappos. After no luck selling the wedges on Poshmark, I went on the Zappos site and realized it offers 12 months to return products. So I called the retailer and explained I had been meaning to return them, and it seems like a year would have been plenty of time but I never made it happen.

She couldn’t have been nicer and sent me an email with a return label. Then I got a store credit. (Again, I didn’t even pay the return shipping cost.) It helped that I had the original packaging and the shoes had clearly not been worn.

Turn Store Credit or Merchandise Credit into Cash

If you end up with gift cards because you returned something without a receipt, you can still ultimately end up with cash. Depending on where you sell it, it’s possible to get 85% of the gift card value in cash.

Here’s where to read the fine print about  selling your gift cards. Some of the best sites with a third party seller are CardCash, GiftCash, ClipKard.

Katherine Snow Smith is a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder.