How to Get the Most out of Your Holiday Gift Returns

Returning an unwanted gift or two this holiday season? You are not alone. We all get gifts that are too big, too small, or not quite our taste. The National Retail Federation’s Holiday Returns Survey found that the average person returned nearly four holiday gifts in 2013. This holiday season, avoid the post-holiday-gift-return-headache by knowing your rights and reading the fine print before making a purchase.

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 received during the holidays, 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. Do not 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.

Ask about restocking fees. Some merchants charge a restocking or “open box” fee for returns of electronic products or large-ticket items.  We have seen a trend developing where more products are hit with restocking fees, particularly those from internet based businesses.  Make sure you read about these policies and ask questions through email or live chats to make sure you understand the policy.  Restocking fees 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 do not 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.

Read the fine print before purchasing a rebate-eligible item. Rebates are great for getting a good deal, but can come with strict requirements. Make sure you understand how the rebate will be issued. Some rebates need to be redeemed immediately and expire after a certain period of time. Read the instructions carefully and check the return policy. You may experience difficulty returning an item if the rebate requires you to open or send in part of the packaging, such as the UPC code or box top.  Keep a copy of the submitted rebate materials and note the date on which you sent it in.  Mark your calendar for when you should receive the rebate.

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About Kelsey Owen

Kelsey Owen is the Director of Communications and Public Affairs for the Better Business Bureau serving Metro Washington DC and Eastern PA (@BBB_DCPA). Prior to December 2014, Kelsey was the Communications and Marketing Coordinator for the Council of Better Business Bureaus based out of Arlington, VA. Kelsey graduated from Denison University with a degree in economics and communication and holds a master's degree in media entrepreneurship from American University.