With the holidays providing retailers the chance to snatch up plenty of extra dollars before the end of the year, many stores are willing to pull out the stops to give you the best deals and a good shopping experience this season. When so many shops are willing to treat you well, you might want to avoid stores that offer subpar treatment or lackluster savings.
Yet while the best stores are stepping up to treat their customers well, even updating shipping and return policies to be more favorable during the holiday shopping season, other retailers are falling behind. The worst stores have inconvenient return policies, bad customer service, and underwhelming discounts. Here is a list of five stores you might want to skip on your shopping trips this holiday season.
1. Forever 21
This popular clothier is known for selling "fast fashion" -- items that are up-to-the-minute trendy and cheap, but not necessarily built to last. Forever 21 has also faced accusations of copying other brands' designs, and H&M recently sued for alleged copyright infringement over a tote-bag design.
However, the biggest reason shoppers might want to avoid Forever 21 this holiday season is its return policy. It has the worst return policy of any store surveyed for a recent GoBankingRates report.
Whereas most retailers offer cash refunds on returns, Forever 21 does not. The retailer will only exchange in-store returns for store credit or other merchandise and grants no refund except for defective items. Worse, the store only gives shoppers 21 days, just three weeks, to change their minds. After that window is up, the purchase is permanent.
If you're looking for steep discounts, you might want to avoid this warehouse retailer. Costco's Black Friday deals are among the worst out there, according to a study from WalletHub, with offered discounts averaging just 19.5%. That's half the savings of the average 40.2% discount across retailers. The best discounts were from J.C. Penney, which offered nearly 3.5 times more savings than Costco, with an average markdown of 68%.
Then there are the notorious Costco crowds, which tend to get worse as the holiday shopping season progresses. Since it offers everything needed for the holidays -- from decorations to gifts, clothing, and food items -- Costco will be an essential pit stop for many shoppers. However, without the savings to offset this hassle, you might be better off considering other retailers through the end of the year.
Although Wal-Mart offers better savings than Costco, its Black Friday discounts are still below average -- just 30.1% on average, reported WalletHub. However, the area where Wal-Mart ranks at the bottom is customer satisfaction. Wal-Mart is the traditional retailer with the lowest customer service ratings, according to Forrester's Customer Experience Index Online Survey for Q3 2015.
This finding is backed up by another report from 24/7 Wall St., which put Wal-Mart on its 2015 Customer Service Hall of Shame. At No. 10, Wal-Mart is the only retailer among service providers like big banks, cell phone carriers, and Internet service and cable providers. This was due to Wal-Mart's high proportion of dissatisfied customers, like the 41.9% who had an overall negative experience, or the 13.8% who rated their experience as poor, the worst option provided. Long lines, limited selection, and higher-than-expected prices could be to blame, according to 24/7 Wall St.
4. Sears and Kmart
Sears and Kmart are both owned by Sears Holding Corporation, and both have some of the least- friendly policies for shoppers. Both of these stores landed among the five with the worst return policies in GoBankingRates' recent survey, because of the short time limit on returns, just 30 days, and for policies against making returns without a receipt.
These stores also landed on MainStreet's list of the worst retailers from which to buy gift cards, because there's a risk your local Sears or Kmart cwill closedown. MainStreet reported that Kmart and Sears stores are much dingier and depressing than other big-box retailers because they spend a fraction of what other stores do on maintenance and updates.
5. Brand stores
This last pick is not one retailer, but a category. "The worst stores to shop at are brand stores like Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch, Prada, etc.," said Kerry Sherin, a marketing associate with Offers.com. "Chances are slim to none that you find discounted products or deals directly from the brand."
Shoppers looking for real deals would be better off heading to the big-box retailers that will be offering heftier discounts this season. "[L]ook for deals on the brand[s] at resellers like J.C. Penney or Macy's who consistently strive to provide the best holiday pricing against their competitors," said Sherin.
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This article originally appeared on GoBankingRates.