BBB Tips for Happy Holiday Returns, Refunds and Exchanges

December 01, 2009

As we scour the shelves (or Web sites) for that perfect gift, we all hope our efforts will be appreciated. If not, many of us assume that our present can always be returned to the store for a quick refund or easy exchange. Assume otherwise!

Some stores give refunds; some issue store credits only; some consider all sales to be final. A store is not legally required to accept items for refund, exchange, or credit unless the merchandise is defective or was misrepresented.

The Better Business Bureau reminds shoppers to know their return rights before making the purchase. It’s always better to ask, than to assume!

Ask the store about its return policy. Can a customer obtain a refund, a store credit, or exchange unwanted merchandise? You will also want to make sure the return time limit doesn’t start until December 25th if it is a gift.

Ask for a gift receipt and enclose it with the present. Also, don’t remove electronics or similar products from their boxes before wrapping as the original packaging may be required for a return.

Do not assume the regular return policy applies to sales or clearance items. Some merchants consider sales items to be final, so ask. 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 apply.

Ask about restocking fees. Some merchants charge a restocking or "open box" fee for returns of electronics products or large-ticket items. Ask if that is their policy. A common amount for a restocking fee can be as high as 25 percent of the purchase.

Look for a posted return policy when shopping online. If returns are permitted, ask what procedures and timeframe need to be followed.

Save your gift receipt. Keep the item in its original packaging and be aware that some merchants charge "open box" or restocking fees. You don’t have to brave the crowds the day after Christmas, but don’t wait too long to return the item. Pick a time when the store is not likely to be crowded and be polite when talking to customer service. If you are a regular customer, or have a store credit account, mention that fact as you discuss your return options. Merchants are usually willing to accommodate loyal customers.

Following these tips will help you to keep your holiday spirit just a little bit longer!