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Many Happy Returns! How to Avoid the Hassle of Returning Holiday Gifts


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Sometimes even the best laid plans of holiday shoppers go awry. However, most retailers offer some sort of return or refund policy. But surprisingly, a new BBB survey conducted by Kelton Research finds nearly three in ten (29 percent) adult consumers don’t carefully read return and exchange policies when making a purchase in a store or retail outlet.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), return fraud is costing retailers an estimated $16 billion per year, leading to added policies and stipulations regarding returns.

“The number of people who don’t read return and exchange policies carefully is concerning,” said Steve Cole, president and CEO, Council of Better Business Bureaus. “Though they are commonplace, not every retailer has the same policy and some even implement separate policies around special sales and holidays.”

Prior to the 2006 holiday season, the NRF released a survey indicating that more than one in three consumers (37.6 percent) were expected to return at least some portion of their holiday gifts. And, in a more recent survey released in November 2007, the NRF found that consumers will not see a drastic shift in holiday return policies this year, with four in five retailers implementing the same holiday return policy as last year.

Added Cole, “We encourage consumers to carefully read and make sure they understand any and all policies that come with their purchase. In the long run it can save them a lot of time and money.”

BBB commissioned its survey on consumer awareness of refund and exchange policies just prior to the holiday shopping season. While reading the return policy is one of the most important things a savvy holiday shopper can do, BBB has additional advice to help make gift returns as easy as possible:

  • Most stores have a return policy, but the policies often vary in one way or another. Some offer full refunds; others offer only store credit, or exchanges and it’s important to understand the specific policy for the store.

  • Always ask for a gift receipt and enclose it with the present. At the very least, make sure you leave the price tag on with the price cut off.

· Understand what the return policies are for on-sale and clearance items, which may be different than merchandise sold at full price.

  • Don’t remove electronics or similar products from their boxes before wrapping as the original packaging may be required for a return. Many merchants charge as much as a 15 percent restocking or "open box" fee for returns of electronics products or large-ticket items.

· Some retailers have different return policies depending on whether you shopped online or in a store, so look for return policies when buying online or from catalogs. Sometimes merchandise can be returned to a store; otherwise, you may be charged a shipping fee to return or exchange an item.

  • Health regulations, which can prohibit the return of hats and intimate apparel, may apply.

  • You don’t have to brave the crowds the day after opening gifts, but don’t wait too long to return the item. Many stores now have a limited time frame from the date of purchase in which you can make a return.

  • 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.

For more reliable advice from the source you can trust, go to www.bbb.org/us.

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