Sep. 19, 2013 at 10:49 AM ET
Have you read Wild? In it, the author hikes solo for hundreds of miles in dangerously ill-fitting boots—when she encounters someone who tells her about REI's epic lifetime return policy. Let's just say it's a major turning point in the whole narrative of our hero.
So well known has been the outdoor gear retailer's return policy, it is literally the stuff of legends in public lore. But now REI is changing the game: Instead of its policy of no-questions-asked returns forever and ever and ever, the chain announced earlier this year it will only take items back within 12 months of their original purchase.
Yeah, we might be bummed out, but we can easily understand the reason for the change. Obviously, shoppers were abusing it left and right, "hikers, kayakers and climbers who secretly—or not so secretly—used the policy as an ATM," according to a Wall Street Journal report. The report also notes that a customer in Washington state recently successfully returned a snow suit he bought to climb Mount Rainer in (wait for it) 1970.
Another store with a reputation for leeway is Bloomingdale's—but the department store recently has taken steps to crack down on wear-and-return offenders: It's attaching highly visible black tags in obvious places on garments.
But fear not, those with indecisive (or otherwise scandalous) shopping habits! There are still tons of places out there with return policies that are pretty much too good to be true. Take note:
Zappos is also well known for its lax return policy, which allows you to send back items for 365 days from the purchase date. (And guess what? If you purchase on February 29 of a Leap Year, then you get four whole years to return!) Return shipping is totally free. But your products must be in the original condition in which you received them (so you can't try to use it as your new REI-style ATM for running shoes or hiking boots).
Similarly, Piperlime too offers free shipping and free returns with a prepaid return label.
At Buy Buy Baby returns are free, and a pre-paid shipping label comes with every order. Items in new condition returned within 90 days will receive a full refund or store merchandise credit. After 90 days, you'll receive a store merchandise credit for the current selling price of the item. And don't try anything too gross: Only unopened breast pumps, breast pump accessories and maternity undergarments can be sent back.
L.L. Bean's 100% satisfaction guarantee policy offers customers money back or store credit for any item they're not happy with—regardless of how many decades ago the purchase might have been made or how many times it's been worn.
Costco's relaxed return policy is also well known, with full refunds offered on everything including photo prints or gifts! (Can you imagine? "I look fat in this picture. I want my money back.") Electronics like TVs and computers must be returned within 90 days for a full refund—and even this caveat theoretically allows you to keep kicking that "but what if something new comes out next month" can down the road indefinitely.
Amazon offers returns for most items within 30 days of receipt of shipment. Items must be in new condition with original packaging. And shoes or clothing must be unworn (un-hiked in, for instance).
Diapers.com also has an amazing return policy—which by its very nature is kind of hilarious. (It just makes us think of packing up a box of dirty diapers and sending them back!) But indeed the company allows you to return packages within 365 days, and will even pay your return shipping. (And no, the product should neither be used nor expired!)
Although many retailers that sell social occasion items have been cracking down lately on shoppers who buy, wear to an event, and return, Nordstom's lax policy still holds. They continue to take just about anything back. Period.
Now, we're not suggesting it's ethical to—shall we say—test the limits of such easy breezy return policies. But it does give us a giggle to think about some of the old items we'd love to banish to the place from whence they came in our moments of bad judgement—in exchange for cold hard cash. (Our prom dress perhaps? The giant red Sally Jesse Raphael-inspired glasses we wore in junior high?)
So let's hear from you: What old item would you love to return if a store would let you?
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.