Holiday gift returns are almost inevitable. No matter how hard you try to find the perfect gift for a friend or relative, there's always a chance that it's the wrong size, wrong color or that the recipient won't like it.
More and more stores are offering gift receipts, which allow recipients to return gifts without asking you for the original receipt. These can be tucked into the gift box, and if the recipient is happy with the gift, they need never know that you got the item on sale.
But some merchants don't allow returns and others only give store credit. The Better Business Bureau advises shoppers to inquire about return policies when you buy gifts so you won't be surprised if they can't be returned or if a store only gives you credit.
In short, here are our recommendations:
- Ask the store about its return policy. Can a customer obtain a refund, a store credit, or exchange unwanted merchandise? How long is the period when returns are allowed? Some stores have extended return periods for gifts, while others limit returns to a week or less after the item is purchased.
- Ask for a gift receipt and enclose it with the gift. Don’t remove electronics or similar products from their boxes before wrapping. The original packaging may be required for a return. In some cases, such as videos or music, the package must remain sealed.
- Do not assume that regular return policies apply to sale or clearance items. Some merchants consider the sale of such items to be final, so ask before buying. If you are the gift recipient, do not assume you have the right to return or exchange an unwanted present. Like the shopper, you are bound by the merchant’s return policy. Health regulations, which can prohibit the return of hats and intimate apparel, also may apply.
- Ask about restocking fees. Some merchants charge a restocking or "open box" fee for returns of electronic products or large-ticket items. A restocking fee can be as high as 25 percent of the purchase price.
Look for a posted return policy when shopping online. If returns are permitted, ask what procedures and time frames need to be followed. Find out whether shipping fees are charged for returning items and whether shipping costs or restocking fees are deducted from the price of returned items.
- Save your receipt. Keep items in their original packaging and leave tags on clothing. If you remove the price or black it out on the tag, try to leave the item number or bar code visible as it will make it easier for a store to process the return.
- Time your returns to avoid hassles. Return lines can be lengthy the day after Christmas, but don’t wait too long to return items. Pick a time when the store is unlikely to be crowded, and be polite when talking to customer service clerks. If you are a regular customer or have a store credit account, mention that as you discuss return options. Merchants are usually willing to accommodate loyal customers.