Target's Super Secret Return Policy

Consumer Reports tells us that Target’s strict “No receipt, No return” policy has an “unadvertised” loophole — you can return items of less than $20 for store credit. The catch? You can only do this twice a year.

Consumer Reports says:

According to the posted policy, you’re simply out of luck if you don’t have a receipt and Target can’t verify the purchase through its electronic “receipt look-up” system, as might be the case if you paid cash or received the item as a gift.

But for items costing up to $20, there’s another “hidden” option that you won’t see on the store’s posted return policy. Customers can get store credit, provided they show a driver’s license or other government-issued identification and haven’t already used this option twice during the year. This option actually has been around awhile, although it initially allowed no-receipt returns for items valued up to $100, an amount subsequently reduced to $40, and reduced again last year to $20.

“It is something we look at as an accommodation above and beyond the policy,” says Target spokesman David Fransen. “It’s not publicized or advertised.”

CR notes that Walmart will give you cash back on items under $25 without a receipt, so referring to this policy as “above and beyond” is a little, um, generous. Don’t you think?

Target’s ‘hidden’ return policy
[Consumer Reports]



Edit Your Comment

  1. snoop-blog says:

    wal-mart does the same thing up to three times per year. i found this out when my friend told me about his criminal conversion scheme to buy items on sale at other stores then return them to wal-mart and get a gas card.

  2. lmbrownmail says:

    I’ve seen our Wal-Mart refuse to take a return for an item worth less than $25 with no receipt. So, no – it’s not above and beyond.

  3. snoop-blog says:

    @snoop-blog: i meant a gift card (that he used on gas).

  4. MBZ321 says:

    I really don’t see a problem with Target’s return policy overall. No reciept (on a larger item)= no return. How does Target know you actually bought that item there (besides credit card lookups)? I wish more stores would do this and maybe (in theory) prices wouldn’t be so high.

  5. Dute says:

    I did this at Walmart, except it was for $120. They had no problem, just asked for my ID.

  6. I returned an item to Target, without a receipt, a few weeks ago valued at $45. They were able to run the card I used to purchase the item and confirm that I had indeed purchased the item at Target and was able to get a full refund.

  7. Jeangenie says:

    We had a gift receipt for two shirts that my daughter received as Christmas presents.

    She didn’t want either so we went to exchange them. Both had tags and we had the gift receipt. Should have been easy, right?

    Well because one of the tags had the price portion removed (um, its a gift, so shouldn’t be shocked) and because it came from another store (again, shocking–nationwide chain) they said that they could not accept the return on the one shirt without the price portion of the tag.

    So–what is the purpose of the gift receipt?

    We eventually found a similar shirt (on clearance of course) and they did an exchange at this low clearance price–but we had to keep asking the clerk what we should do and what our options were.

    I know theft is an issue–but come on, customer service! And the illusion of a gift receipt being convenient for exchanges was an illusion.

    Rant finished.

  8. Sqrfrk says:

    The $20 limit is going to get lower every year, since Target is in the interest of eventually NOT allowing such returns.

    Though it’s not a hard concept – I went into working for Target with the understanding that you needed a receipt to make a return. When you got some royal asshats coming in – then walking out in disbelief! – without a receipt, all you can do is chuckle. Some of the golden quotes I’ve heard:

    “I live across the street! I OWN this place! Give me my return!”
    “So what happens if I don’t need this thing anymore?”

    And the ever-famous:
    “You’re telling me that I can’t return this without a receipt?”

    I believe they called it a “return exception” for a reason.

  9. missdona says:

    I recently tried to return an very inexpensive (<$7) item to Target without a receipt. I had two identical items, purchased on different days on the same credit card. One had the receipt, the other one didn’t. Even though they had the card and the item, they still couldn’t find the item through electronic lookup. The cashier kept saying “I need numbers! But I need numbers!”, which made no sense to me at all.

    I finally found the receipt in my purse and the transaction was over within 30 seconds. Bottom Line? Keep your Target receipts.

  10. Pro-Pain says:

    @Sqrfrk – you are the type of return asshat I hate. Fail. Glad you enjoy saying “no”. Seek therapy.

  11. lmbrownmail says:

    I’m old enough that I remember the days when ALL stores had the rule “No receipt, no return”. Period.

    Somehow we all managed to deal with this. So what’s the problem with consumers today?

    They’re spoiled!!

  12. DeltaPurser says:

    Actually, I do find the policy more than fair… Theft is prevalent in retail, and I would never expect Target (or any other store for that matter) to give me cash for something I paid for but decided to chuck the receipt for.

  13. rubberkeyhole says:

    @Pro-Pain: Are you kidding?

    When does the line of not accepting responsibility end? Receipts are proof that you bought an item…you lose it, there is no proof. You should never assume that someone else will keep record of this, as it’s not in anyone’s but your own best interest.

    I work for another retail chain, and I can only hope that someday every store will start using Target as an example in terms of returns (only with receipt…that gift receipt fiasco someone shared above is ridiculous on Target’s part).

  14. Manok says:

    the heart is in the back, near the tvs. You know what to do.

  15. ColoradoShark says:

    @snoop-blog: Interesting! When people buy an item cheaply and sell it more expensively it is criminal conversion. When big business does it, it is called arbitrage.

    Yes, I do see the difference….

  16. Geekybiker says:

    I can understand no reciept no return, but their policy on wedding registry returns is asinine. Yes it shows it was purchased for you, but no you can’t return it. You need to go hassle your guests for receipts.

  17. gruffydd says:

    I’ve used this option once, and there were a few restrictions:
    1. Store credit had to be used the same day.
    2. Store credit had to be used within the same department of the original returned item.

    I had made this purchase with a Target Gift Card, so they were unable to use their Credit Card lookup.

  18. Eoghann says:

    So you want companies to keep your credit card number on file so you can return something whenever you want, but not for when someone decides to steal that data and use it against you.

    You are a fickle bunch. Just keep your receipt, sheesh.

  19. peokuk says:

    Target made me use this business to replace a damaged bag of their Archer Farms trail mix. Didn’t realize it had a slice in the bag until I got home.

    You’d think for an exchange of their store branded product they wouldn’t make you feel like a criminal.

  20. FreeMarketGravy says:

    I knew Target was kind of strict on returns, but it’s weird that WalMart has a reputation for asking for ID and receipts. My local WalMart will take anything that was purchased anywhere back no matter what condition (out of box, without box, broken, filled with roaches, soaked with bodily fluids, still on fire) for full credit in cash or store credit and at least two other people I personally know have similar WalMarts.

  21. Xerloq says:

    @MBZ321: I don’t shop at Target because of this policy. My wife received some duplicate gifts at a baby shower that we weren’t going to use. They were brand new, unopened in the box, Target branded items, but the manager refused to take them back because we didn’t have the receipt. He accused us of trying to return merchandice from Wal-Mart!

    Apparently gift receipts tied to registries are cleaned out of the system when you cancel the registry, so we couldn’t use either the gift receipt or printed registry (because the electronic version was canceled.)

    He also explained that it’s two items per year, not two transactions like the policy would imply.

    Target must really be losing a lot of money from people buying stuff at Wally-World and returning it to Target. I’m sure they lose orders of magnitude more on employee theft and spoilage than they do through bogus returns.

    IMHO, if the store carries it, and it’s NIB, they should accept it for at least store credit for the lowest sales price. That’s the best way to keep the customer.

  22. jesuismoi says:

    I don’t think ANY of these return policies have a darn thing to do w/ theft… and I wish consumerist would do some journalism on this point.

    If I am running a huge business and I have 90$ million in sales in the last 3 months, that’s $90 million that I can’t really play with yet, because it might be returned. If I reduce the return window to 1 month, I’ve just freed up potential liability on $60 million in goods. Additionally, I don’t have to worry about the potential loss if these items are returned out of the sales window (i.e. there’s no shelf of flip-flops to return them to because we stopped selling flip-flops 8 weeks ago.) and I clearance them out.

    This has NOT A DARN THING to do with theft (the professional thieves sell the stuff in yard sales, flea markets, and ebay) and everything to do with making sure once you buy it, you don’t bring it back and make me sell it again.

  23. rachaeljean says:

    At my Target, it’s only $10 and it’s only ONCE a year. =/

    It sucks for people who buy Target branded stuff that BREAKS. We all loose receipts from time to time.

    Their receipt-Nazism has definitely cut back significantly on the amount of shopping I do there… especially at Christmas time, when you don’t necessarily want to ask your sweet, well-meaning relatives for a receipt.

  24. HootieMac says:

    I’m trying to convince my fiancee that we should ditch our gift registry at Target and move everything to Kohls and Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I know some people will not include receipts, and I don’t want to get stuck with 9 crock pots and 3 food processors.

    I understand what they’re trying to do, and mostly support and accept it, but there has to be some leeway.

  25. Xerloq says:

    @jesuismoi:It’s not an accounting issue, it’s a service issue.

    You’re referring to the return eligibility window, but the article is about returns without receipt. You’d still have to hold onto that revenue regardless of how someone returns the item. Besides, most retail outfits account for this in their quarterly and annual statements. It’s not a big deal, you just carry the revenue over.

    So it’s not an accounting issue, and most consumers don’t care.

    I remember when stores had the no return without receipt policies, too, but stores started offering returns without receipts as a service to their customers in an effort to differentiate themselves from the competition. Soon most stores offered this service. Now they’re cutting back, and people notice.

    It’s all about the ease of doing business. Companies that make it easy succeed, those that don’t choke and die on their own policies.

  26. TangDrinker says:

    I think Target and Walmart should lift the ban on diaper returns – especially when you buy (or get) tons of size 1 diapers and then the kid outgrows to a size 2 in matter of minutes. Even make it obligatory to just exchange the diaper for the next larger size, for crying out loud.

  27. ilovemom says:


    I agree. Most stores offer easy returns. I stopped shopping at Target a few years back when I tried to return some clothing received as a gift. I was only able to “exchange” the clothing for items of equal or greater value (fine, reasonable) from the same DEPARTMENT (I’m not a big fan of the clothing department at Target). I guess this is related to theft. Some departments might have product that is easier to steal, yet less desirable to a theft. Still it annoyed me enough to stop shopping at Target and attempt (unsuccessfully) to get my friends/family to stop also. Amazing how hard it is to give up Target and try to shop at local mom+pops. Ever try to buy pillows at a local store; even in a major city I’ve found it’s nearly impossible.

  28. missdona says:

    @HootieMac: Section 9 Reject: I did Bed Bath and Beyond and Amazon for registries. Both were great.

  29. karlrove says:

    (uh, keep your receipts?)

  30. Allison4 says:

    I recently took back a pair of girl’s sandals because they were a little too small. I had no receipt, but all I wanted to do was exchange for a larger size. They still had the distinct Target tag attached in the “Circo” box, but they acted like I was pulling something shady, made me show my license, went for a supervisor and told me I could do this only one more time in the next 12 months. All for an $11.99 pair of shoes.

    Of course, I found the receipt in my car later. I understand why they need to be more strict, but was surprised to see how strict they really were.

  31. theirishscion says:

    @Geekybiker: I had a simply classic example of asinine wedding registry return process this weekend. Someone very kindly bought us a piece of furniture from our wedding registry and had it shipped to our home. It arrived broken (more smashed really. Very broken) and without any receipt or indication of who sent it. So Beloved called the Target website customer care number up, explained the situation and was told to simply take it to a store to return it. She asked what to say when they said they wouldn’t because she had no receipt and was told that they should ring the same customer care number for authorization, which would be forthcoming.

    I was a touch doubtful but what the heck, we gave it a try. As you might expect we spent 4o minutes or so painstakingly determining that we were SOL. In the end, the manager (who shall remain nameless because he was trying hard to be helpful, spent a lot of active time one the phone with various parts of the company and was at least personable and honest) basically said what I’d been thinking, the correct solution was simply to order an identical piece of furniture from the website, then return the broken one with the fresh and valid receipt.

    Nice to know that the official solution to the problem was effectively fraud. Oh, and there is absolutely no way of telling who ordered the item for us at this point, so since it’s a pool of about 150 possible people, I’m guessing someone is going to be pissed when they don’t get a thank-you note…

    Funnily enough, on the same trip I had to return an identically ‘damaged during shipping’ item to Bed Bath & Beyond, who were superb. In and out in about 4 minutes, most of which was spent fishing out a replacement. I’m half ways tempted to just cancel my Target registry, it seems to be more trouble than it’s worth, and people seem to massively prefer buying from BB&B anyway.

  32. MirDreams says:

    I don’t know if it’s an exception to the store policy per se but I’m pretty sure that Target is one of the places where, even if you don’t have your physical receipt, they can look it up if you paid by credit card. Scary ’cause that info could get stolen, yet oh so convenient.

  33. wring says:

    @Jeangenie: that’s messed up. target’s skus are sewn in as a tag in the shirt. they were giving you a hard time for no reason.

  34. loueloui says:

    Fuck Target. They changed their return policy A WEEK AFTER CHRISTMAS to screw over everyone who had received gifts bought at their store.

    One thing this article doesn’t mention is that the reason they will ask you for ID is so that they can enter you into the ReturnExchange []
    database which by the way has no government oversight, no appeal process, and your file is no business of yours anyway.

  35. carlymf says:

    It’s really not that hard to keep receipts. I worked at the Service Desk at Target doing returns, and I do understand that sometimes things happen that we cannot avoid. We get gifts, and the giver doesn’t give a receipt. Receipts get lost, etc. When I am helping someone, and I can tell they are a guest who normally keeps receipts, I feel for them. I wish I could do more than offer the no-receipt gift card, but the fact is that we need to keep track of our inventory and our money. I don’t find this policy very unreasonable.

    Keep track your receipts, or use a check and/or card. Believe it or not, Target doesn’t just do things to make it harder for guests. Why would they want to drive us away?

  36. SadFootSign says:

    The other wonderful thing that Target uses your credit card number for is to check and see if you signed up for a Target Card yet, using some kind of invasive voodoo magic. That is why they ask if you want to sign up after you run your debit or credit card. (Use to be a Team Member)

  37. Xerloq says:

    @carlymf: You should see the box of receipts we keep around. With the number of transactions I make, it’s nearly impossible to keep track of all the receipts. Can you imagine the time it would take to go through the receipts weekly or monthly to determine when items can no longer be returned, and then the receipt can be thrown away?

    As to the credit card lookup – no store has ever done that for me even when I asked.

    As to the point about doing “things to make it harder for guests” of course they’re not intentionally trying to make it hard for guests. It’s some suit who has an MBO to reduce returns by 1% annually or no holiday bonus.

    There’s a saying in business, ‘that which is measured gets done,’ and measuring the reduction in returns is easy, so a policy gets made and suit gets a bonus. Customer satisfaction, however, and ‘opportuniy cost’ of lost sales aren’t so easily measured, so the policy doesn’t reflect that. It’s what the Consumerist is all about – the disconnect between the recipients of the EECB and the average guy putting money in the till.

  38. ShinjiniBabblebox says:

    Comment on Target’s Super Secret Return Policy My mother, who is a bit elderly bought me a razor from Target. I knew it
    was from target because the sticker on the bottom says target. I tried to
    take it back, they said no receipt, no return because it’s over $20 bucks.

    She actually bought me a razor for my birthday 6 months before. It’s the
    same razor. I can’t return that one either.

    by the way no one wants it at my garage sale either.

    it’s pretty hard to return to walmart when it says target on it.

    ps. it’s still in the shrinkwrap. I’m a doctor, I usually walk in wearing
    scrubs. I wonder if they think I stole it. I am about to throw it in the

    I tell no one to buy me things from target anyone and I don’t shop there for
    me or for my office anymore.

  39. Raanne says:

    As has been mentioned above, the #1 thing that this will hurt them on is gift registries. I know we canceled our gift registry at target after hearing about this – most stores can look up the receipt for an item based off of when it was bought off the registry – Target will lose a lot of business because of this. Gift registries are huge dollars for stores.

  40. Russell M says:

    Several of the stores I shop at have the sales clerk ask if you need gift receipts. These contain the necessary information for return/exchanges without the price information. They usually even tape them to the item as a courtesy. Seems some stores know this goes a long way to help build loyalty. If the clerk doesn’t offer one, I simply ask for one.

    I always ask for one on items that come with a warranty and tape it to the manual/warranty book before filing it in the event I need to use a manufacturer’s warranty.

  41. bradriley says:

    Um, the phrasing of the return policy hasn’t changed in about 5 years. Just the enforcement.

  42. DeanCadiots says:

    Comment on Target’s Super Secret Return Policy The problem I have with this policy is that no where (NO WHERE) when you are
    setting up a gift registry do they ever tell you this. I had a registry at
    Target for my wedding in 2005. It was easy to return stuff, but most people
    don’t give you stuff for weddings that’s not on your registry, especially if
    they live far away. So I never ran into this policy.
    However, when I had a baby in early 2007 I had many people buy me stuff I
    didn’t want or was duplicated. I had huge problems returning it to Target
    even with tags still attached. Hello! At that point I gladly would have
    taken store credit. To top it off they were totally rude about it. Now I
    warn everyone I know not to register at Target if they can help it. It’s
    underhanded policies like this that make me not want to shop there at all.
    By the way, we also had a registry Bed Bath and Beyond and they would return
    anything, without even a receipt, for cash. Which we of course turned
    around and spent in their store. Talk about great customer service.

    Discovery Toys Consultant

  43. FistyDollars says:

    @Xerloq: If the store you’re going to doesn’t offer Receipt Lookup, call BS on them and get a manager.

    The “same day same department” days ended when the dollar limit was lowered to $20. It’s now on a standard gift card, with no limitations/expirations.

    The gift registry restrictions are understandable, as we would have people gaining access to random registries, printing them out as their own, then obtaining merchandise (frequently from the sales floor) and getting store credit.

    Honestly, I agree that $20 is a little low, but the fact is that if you paid for it ANY way except for cash, anything traceable at all, within 90 days, they can find it. Changed card numbers? As long as you have your old one, no problem. The only snag that I ever see is if you returned an item, and did an even exchange for another item. Since there’s no charge to your card, there’s no card associated with that receipt, and thus it can’t be located via Receipt Lookup.

    Just don’t pay cash. Simple.

  44. deborah33 says:

    The $20 thing is also if it was bought in the last 90 days. I had a duplicate toy that was bought for my toddler. I have no idea when it was bought but it was a Fisher Price toy WITH the Target Logo on it. The refused to return it and said that it was not in there system and therefore must have been bought over 90 days before that return date. We are talking maybe a $5 toy here WITH their logo on it. I just asked to exchange it for another toy we did not have.

    The manager rudely walked away from me in the middle of discussing this (I truly stayed calm since I wanted to return this item). When I called Target headquarters they confirmed they could do nothing.

    They suggested I bring my friend in with her credit card to see if they could bring it up that way but since it was over 90 days there was probable nothing they could do.

    I was furious and this was the final straw for me to ban Target. I had always defended the policy as I understand business but then reading and hearing more and more stories. I determined I can’t do that to another mom. We are busy, time slips by, receipts are lost–I need a family friendly place to buy stuff and now that returns can be made.

    Have you ever seen a toddler rips apart presents and receipts at a birthday party. Good luck with that.

    I have found I do not miss Target at all and as a result I have spent about 5K less this year compared to the same time last year. Boycotting Target is the best thing that has happened to my bank account and the amount of clutter in my home.

  45. jezabel2004 says:

    Over the years, I really liked target and only on rare occasions have I had to return items. In August 2007, I had purchased a Huffy bike and a helmet for my son for his 8th birthday. Two weeks later I had to return the bike due to there being a load noise that would occur when my son would ride his new bike. He rode the bike once. I had my receipt and attempted to return the bike to the Target located at 3173 E Shields Avenue, Fresno CA.

    The store’s assistant manager did not want to make the return and then I pointed out the defect and showed my receipt. The store manager was then called and I was told by him Mr. Tim Coats that Target had the right to repair the bike at their cost. I was reluctant but at that point I didn’t feel like I had any recourse and I just wanted a bike for my son to enjoy. I then asked when could I be back later on that day to pick up the bike. I was then told that the person that fixes the bikes would not be in until next week on Tuesday. It was Friday and I was crushed as I had wanted to go bicycling with my son on the weekend. I then agreed, still rather dismayed at my inconvenience. I submitted my name and phone number (cell) in order for the store to call me when it was completed. That Tuesday came and went so I went to the store on that Wednesday, since I was in that area. I gave them my receipt and the fix it/service ticket. The store staff could not locate the bike!! I started to become very upset, then the bike was located. The store manager then told me that the bike was still making the loud noise and he offered me store credit. I asked if there was another bike exactly like that one in the store. The store manager indicated that there was not. At that time I then stated that I had been patient and followed all of the “store policy” protocol and now I have wasted my time, efforts and my gas. I then insisted on a cash refund at that point. The store manager, sighed and then refunded my money. I was perplexed by this interaction for a refund that took a week to get and I was very upset because I had felt like I was victimized for having purchased a defective product. I had told my self that I would never be treated like that again by a retailer. I then went to Walmart and purchased a beautiful electric green Next Bike for my son who was very pleased. I had completely sworn off Target Stores for good and I kept this vow for over 8 months. Now, when I would shop at Target, I would usually drop about $100-$200 per month at that store. So I felt like taking my business and consumer dollars elsewhere was for the best until…….

    On 5-10-08, I attempted to return a Maybelline Mascara that I had purchased at Target on 5-6-08. It was opened and I always buy this particular mascara. However on this occasion, the mascara appeared to defective. It was very clumpy and unusable. The item was only a mere $6.29 and my total purchase was 68.15(with taxes) for my other items. I paid in cash.

    I was very dismayed at my experience as the return clerk stated that the package was open and therefore could not be returned. I explained that I was a very good customer and noticed that the formulation was somewhat different and that I could not use the mascara. I had my receipt to indicate that I had just purchased the questionable item.

    The clerk then informed me that target cannot accept opened items. I asked if that was the case even if the product appeared defective. The clerk indicated that was “the company policy”. I then asked to speak to a manager. “Carlos” came to the register and repeated the same rhetoric. The manager then proceeded to show me on the back of the register receipt that states, “All returns & exchanges must new , unused, and have original packaging and accessories. SOME items cannot be returned if opened.” I wondered why the return policy was so vague and I questioned them about the defective merchandise that they were obviously selling. After all was said and done, I was NOT granted my return for a meager $6.29.

    I am very unhappy at my experiences with Target and I very repulsed at the fact that on these two return incidents I was felt like I had to defend my rights as a consumer. I actually felt criminalized and by all means, I am pretty squeaky clean. I am a public servant (social worker), mother of three children, graduate student, and by all means a very law -abiding citizen. I am surprised about how poorly Target treats it’s consumers. Is target perhaps doing some racial profiling? I know that sounds extreme but their reactions to my minor returns seems preposterous and extreme. I really wish Target the best of luck, since as a consumer I am now afraid to shop at TARGET due to the fact that I may be held liable if a product which they sell for profit is defective then the burden is placed on me to live with it and not even feel as if I can return it. This is a poor practice and customer service has fallen to the waste side for this company.

  46. TARGET4LIFE says:

    Its funny reading what everyone has to say about Target and it’s return “policy” Like what was said… the return policy hasnt changed, but the exceptions has. I also agree that if you have registered there for a wedding or baby, you should be able to return, for store credit, gift reciept or not, like it used to be. I think that the $20 rule is stupid, I believe that it should be no reciept no return. To be honest. I like the fact that they can look up anything that has been purchased within the last 90 days, other than cash. credit, Debit, check, even gift cards -if you still have the one you used- I think that if the item you purchased is defected then you should be able to return it. specially makeup. As for the asking to sign up for a target credit card… its their job, just like working at a bank, or any other retail store that offers a store credit card, the store doesnt know if you have a card or not, it randomly asks people, depending on their purchase, if they want to sign up or not. Whoever said that, is just adding fuel to the fire. whoever said that they used to work there, then you didnt know anything about your job!! I hear stories about Target all the time, and my favorite is when someone says that they arent going to shop there anymore and walks right back into the store. If youre not going to shop there then walk out not turn back into the store! *targetgirl*

  47. SavitashriDawes says:

    It actually went up to $35 recently and that $35 is before tax. so you can still return something that is $34.99