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Does a Store Have to Give a Refund on a Return?

A customer returning a shirt

Many retailers allow returns if customers change their minds or receive unwanted gifts. While these retailers have determined that this makes for the best business practice, they aren't legally required to accept returns. Instead, retailers are required to accept returns only if the good sold is defective or if they otherwise breach a warranty or term of the sales contract. For more information, see FindLaw's Product Warranties and Returns section.

State Return and Refund Laws

Many states have laws regarding consumer refunds. It's common for states that have these types of laws to require that refund policies be prominently displayed at the place of purchase in order to be valid. In addition, restocking fees generally must be made clear in the retailer's policy language.

For example, in California, retailers are required to clearly post their refund policy unless they offer a full cash refund, exchange, or store credit within seven days of the purchase date. Retailers that fail to meet this requirement must accept full refunds within 30 days of purchase. In New York , on the other hand, a store is legally required to post their refund policy. If the store doesn't post any return policy, the law requires the store to accept returns within 30 days of purchase.

Other states' refund laws are typically similar to those in California and New York. To determine whether your state has such a refund law, see Customer Returns and Refund Laws by State.


Warranties are express or implied representations of fact that the law enforces. A representation is a statement made by the seller to the buyer, before or at the time of sale, regarding some fact or circumstace related to the product, which is influential in bringing about the buyer's agreement to purchase the product. There are three types of warranties regarding a product's quality or fitness for use: express warranty, implied warranty of merchantability, and implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose.

Express Warranties

An express warranty can be created in one of three ways:

  1. Through a representation of fact relating to the product made by the seller of the product to the purchaser
  2. Through a description of the product
  3. Through a model or sample

An express warranty can be words spoken during a negotiation for purchase, statements made in a sales contract, an earlier purchase of the same kind of product, claims made in tags attached to the product, or claims made in marketing campaigns. If the product fails to meet the level of quality and reliability represented in the express warranty, the manufacturer will fix or replace the product for no additional charge. If the product was purchased from an authorized dealer, the retailer may service the warranty.

If a manufacturer, or someone else who is obligated under the warranty, fails to remedy a defect after a reasonable number of repair attempts, generally the manufacturer must either refund the purchase price or replace the product.

Implied Warranties

An implied warranty is imposed by state law and accompanies the sale of the goods. The implied warranty of merchantability requires that the product meet certain standards of quality, specifically that the product is fit for the ordinary use for which the product is sold. For example, the implied warranty of merchantability requires that a sold coffee maker, in its normal use, make coffee, be properly labeled, and be of a minimum quality that it wouldn't be objected to by other coffee maker sellers selling similar products.

The implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose, on the other hand, imposes a similar requirement in cases in which the seller knows or has reason to know of a particular purpose for which the product is required and in which the buyer is relying on the seller to select a suitable product. For example, if a buyer tells a seller that she needs a sleeping bag for sub-zero conditions, and the seller selects a particular sleeping bag, there may be an implied warranty that the sleeping bag in question is fit for use in sub-zero conditions.

Generally, an implied warranty means the product will work as intended. If it doesn't, the seller must make good on that promise by repairing or replacing the product or by providing a refund of the purchase price.

Getting Legal Help

If you need help in understanding return and refund laws or warranty law, or legal assistance, you can contact a consumer protection attorney.

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