BBB Advice for Many Happy Returns

December 21, 2008
Shopping for the holidays -- unless you’re Scrooge in disguise -- is one of the most festive times of the year. Everywhere you go there’s holiday music, fanciful decorations and enough snow to make it feel like, well the holidays. And now, with just a few days before Christmas, under the tree are all the “perfect” gifts waiting to be opened.

Fast forward to Dec. 26. Aunt Mary’s in line at a store with that fuchsia sweater you thought was “to die for” and your big brother is at the electronics counter hoping to exchange that James Taylor CD for AC/DC. And that newfangled iron your husband bought for you? Yeah, that’s why you’re stuck in another line.

Fortunately for you and other consumers, more than half of retailers’ return policies are more lenient during the holiday season than the rest of the year, according to the National Retail Federation’s Return Fraud Survey.

And fortunately for retailers, most of us like -- and keep! -- our gifts. Last holiday season, for example, 65.2 percent of all gift recipients did not return any gifts.

But if you’re not so lucky, take a deep breath, wear some comfortable shoes and heed this advice for stress-free returns from your BBB and the NRF:

Know the retailer's return policy before you buy. Most retailers have return policies prominently displayed as well as on the back of receipts. Read and remember them.

Save and file all receipts. Receipts are key to hassle-free returns. Some retailers allow consumers to exchange merchandise without a receipt, but others may only provide merchandise credit for the lowest markdown-price at which the item was sold during the holiday season. Provide the recipient with a gift receipt to save hassle after the holidays.

Provide all original packaging and all parts (including tags) when giving a gift. Some retailers won't accept returns unless the item is in its original package. If you plan to return a gift after it’s unwrapped, resist the urge to open it or play with it. No one wants to buy someone else's merchandise.

Make online returns easy. Returns are a part of shopping, no matter where you buy. Keep these tips in mind:
  • Know the process: Do you or the merchant pay for shipping? Some merchants will pick up the delivery charges for exchanges, but not for returns, others offer free return shipping on every return.
  • Where to make returns: Does the retailer have a physical store, and can returns or exchanges be made there? Make sure you have the correct address if you need to mail returns back to the company. Some merchants have offsite service centers to handle returns that may be in a different location from where the merchandise is sent.

Be patient. Remember, the week after Christmas is one of the busiest weeks of the retail year. With people’s frustration high and tolerance low, be patient when returning merchandise.

Start With Trust. Before making a purchasing decision, first check the company out with the BBB.