Here’s How Retailers Are Transforming the Way We Return Unwanted Gifts

Store receipt focusing on return policy on red background.
SondraP/Getty Images

I don’t know about you, but my holiday shopping this year consisted of clicking away on my laptop –– for all of it.

I don’t like the mall. I never have. And the idea of venturing into its depths during the holiday season frightened me. Big crowds? No thanks! So online shopping was for me.

The danger of that? I bought my significant other a pair of shoes from Banana Republic Factory that are a size too big, and the closest store where he could get a better-fitting pair is 60 miles away.


Thankfully, retailers are making the return process easier for consumers, and they’re now offering more gift return options than ever.

Retailers Have Better Return Options This Year

A recent article by The Wall Street Journal says that online and traditional retailers have expanded their return options to make them more convenient for customers. These retailers will use everything from in-store kiosks and lockers to mall concierges, grocery stores, parcel shipping locations and at-home pickup, says The Wall Street Journal.

Tobin Moore, chief executive of logistics provider Optoro Inc., told The Wall Street Journal that around $90 billion in holiday merchandise, purchased both online and in stores, will be returned between now and the first few weeks of the new year.

That said, if you received a gift this year that isn’t quite right for you, you’ll have plenty of return options.

Here’s how a few popular retailers will accept returns:

Amazon: The e-commerce giant now has over 2,000 Amazon lockers, 400 of which are in Whole Foods stores. To return a package at an Amazon locker, visit the online returns center and make a request. After you make the request, you’ll receive an email with a locker drop-off code and instructions.

Here’s a full rundown of Amazon’s free returns policy.

J.C. Penney: You can bring in an unwanted gift and exchange it, or if you have a gift receipt, you can receive a refund in the form of a gift card. If you choose to ship the item back, you’ll have to pay for the shipping.

Kohl’s: You can return your Kohl’s gift in stores and get an immediate refund if you have the packing slip. Without the packing slip, you can get a Kohl’s merchandise credit or a corporate-issued refund. If you want to ship the item back, Kohl’s doesn’t cover the cost.

For Amazon shoppers, though, Kohl’s will pack and ship returns back to the online retailer for free in 82 stores throughout Los Angeles and Chicago.

Target: Target accepts in-store returns and also offers free online returns. To return your item for free, simply print a shipping label online and drop it off at an authorized UPS location.

Walmart: The massive retailer offers Mobile Express Returns kiosks in-store, which promise five-minute returns. Refunds are processed in one to two days. Customers can also return online items free of charge. They can either print a shipping label online and drop off at a designated location or return the item in stores.

Of Course, There Is a Catch

Why are retailers making it easier to return items in person, rather than just letting folks ship it back at little or no cost?

One reason is that they see an opportunity to get customers to make additional purchases when they bring back unwanted gifts, says The Wall Street Journal.

And from personal experience, I can say it sometimes works. I recently went to Ann Taylor Loft to return a pair of pants I ordered online because they didn’t fit. What was supposed to be a quick exchange ended with me spending more money than I initially did online.

Oops again!

Worried you won’t be able to resist the urge to splurge when you return a gift? Here are three ways to beat the temptation:

1. Bring a Friend

One of the best ways to hold yourself accountable is to have help. Heading into a store for a return? Bring a friend with you and let them know you’re on a mission to return the item –– and that the mission doesn’t involve making any additional purchases. If they’re a good friend, they’ll hold you to it. If not, um… find new friends?

2. Leave Your Credit Card at Home

Ah, yes, the credit card. This holiday season, there were moments where I considered cutting mine up. This was a matter of me being straight up careless with it –– no excuses here.

The best way to resist the urge to spend money you don’t have? Leave your credit card at home. If you really want to buy something, you’ll have to use a debit card or cash, which might make you think twice before spending money.

3. When All Else Fails, Ship It

If the retailer offers free shipping on returns, you might be better going that route. If you have to cover the shipping costs yourself, maybe that’ll be enough of an incentive to just return it in person without spending any additional money.

Good luck!

Kelly Anne Smith is a junior writer and engagement specialist at The Penny Hoarder. Catch her on Twitter at @keywordkelly.

The Penny Hoarder Promise: We provide accurate, reliable information. Here’s why you can trust us and how we make money.