How to Return Holiday Purchases and Get a Refund

A Comprehensive Guide to the Online Return Process

After weeks of preparation, decorating, and shopping, the holidays have finally come and gone. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is squared away—as evidence shows, there’s a one-in-four chance you plan to return a gift at some point in the next few weeks.

Want to return a product, but not quite sure how to go about the process? This step-by-step resource will help guide you through the return process from beginning to end.

Check the Fine Print First

If you want a refund, the first thing to do is to consult the business’s policies regarding product returns. There you will likely find four key pieces of information:

  • Time frame in which the business is willing to accept returns
  • Which products are eligible for refunds
  • How your request will be fulfilled
  • Whether there are any costs associated with returning a product

1. Time Limitations

Most businesses will allow returns within a predefined period. However, the length of the return time limit varies widely based on the merchant’s specific policies, as well as the nature of the product. In many cases, retailers can afford to be more forgiving with policies regarding product returns, sometimes allowing returns several months after the initial purchase. Other times, retailers will only allow returns for a matter of days, or might not even accept returns at all.

This is especially true during the holidays, when some merchants choose to extend their window for product returns. For example, some merchants will allow customers to file returns through the end of January on products purchased at any time during the holiday season.

2. Eligibility

It’s important to keep in mind that different sets of policies may apply to different products, especially when retailers carry a diverse range of goods. Before returning your merchandise, consult the seller’s return policies and answer the following questions:

  • Into what product category does the item fit?
  • In what condition is the merchandise? Is that the condition in which it arrived?
  • Is the packaging opened?
  • Is the product a digital good?
  • Was the product marked as “all sales final?”

The answers to these questions will affect the eligibility of your purchase for return. Depending on the item, it may only be returnable within a short window of time, or the merchant may allow a partial return, exchange, or a return for store credit.

3. Return Options & Costs

Just as there are variations in time frame and product eligibility, there may also be more than one method of returning the physical product to the retailer.

Mail Return

Mail returns are the general standard method for online returns. In the past, it was standard for consumers to pay for their own return shipping; however, it’s become increasingly common for retailers to allow free returns, providing the option to print a return label on their website. That said, while free shipping for returns is an increasingly common policy, it is not the rule.


Retailers who maintain brick-and-mortar stores will usually allow customers to bring items purchased online into physical locations to make a return, free of charge. Although this was not common until recently, the move toward unifying online and in-store return channels was one of the first major trends toward a so-called “omnichannel” shopping environment.

Third-Party Services

For purchases from retailers who do not have physical retail spaces, new third-party services like Happy Returns are helping to bridge the gap between customer channels. Such services work as an intermediary, returning merchandise free of charge on customers’ behalf.

The Final Results

How long will this process take? There is no concrete answer for this question. As a rule, though, you should allow anywhere from 7-14 days from the time you place the item in the mail until the funds for the transaction are finally returned.

If after two weeks the funds for the returned product have not been refunded, the amount returned is not the correct amount, or you have additional concerns, do not panic. First, we recommend that you attempt to contact the merchant directly via listed customer contact channels, including:

  • Phone
  • Email
  • Instant Message
  • Social Media Direct Message

You should allow at least 24 hours for retailers to respond to your message. However, if your attempts at contacting the merchant still fail to produce results, there is still one more option: contact eConsumer Services®.

At eConsumer Services®, we apply our eCommerce expertise to help resolve disputes between merchants and consumers, ensuring quick and efficient results.

If you’d like eConsumer Services® to help secure a refund, simply fill out a claim form.

It is important to note that a chargeback should be the last course of action. Many consumers immediately turn to a bank-initiated refund if the traditional refund process doesn’t go as planned—or the consumer might start with the bank out of convenience.

Illegitimate chargeback requests are a practice known as friendly fraud and are considered by many to be a form of cyber shoplifting. There are consequences for cases of friendly fraud, including bank account closure, a damaged credit score, debt collection proceedings, and a ban from shopping with the given merchant in the future.

For many, holiday merchandise returns are a gift that just keeps giving—usually in the form of frustration and added responsibilities. Fortunately, though, eCommerce refunds are usually easier than you think—and a replenished bank account could soon be a reality.