Holiday gift returns and exchanges

Not every gift we give or receive over the holidays is going to fit or be useful.  Gift recipients may want to exchange it, get a refund or obtain a store credit for any one of a variety of reasons.  However, Connecticut Better Business Bureau reminds holiday shoppers that there are steps to take to make the returns process go smoothly.

While retailers are under no obligation to take back merchandise, most do with some exceptions, such as hats, intimate apparel and items that are marked down for clearance.  In some cases, a store may offer a credit rather than a refund and other limitations and exceptions may determine what may be returned and under what circumstances.  Keeping this in mind, it is vital to know exchange and returns policies before making a gift purchase, whether buying a gift in-store or online.

Familiarize yourself with stores’ policies – The terms, conditions, requirements and restrictions can vary widely, even within a chain.  Some may allow a return for no reason at all at any time.  Returns policies are usually prominently displayed at the checkout counter or on online sellers’ websites.  Print out a copy for your records.

Online gift returns may come at a cost – Shipping costs for returns to online vendors are usually borne by the person making the exchange.  If you buy an item from a retailer’s online catalogue, find out whether the gift can be returned directly to the store.

Proof of Purchase and Packaging – At the very least, a receipt is usually required to return a gift.  Keep all original packaging and accessories.  If the gift is being returned in a sealed or hard shell package that has been opened, such as an electronic gadget, the store may impose a re-stocking or “open box” fee of anywhere between one percent and 50 percent of its value, because the items cannot be re-sold as new.  The highest re-stocking charges are usually associated with made-to-order items.

Don’t wait too long – While it is not necessary to run out to the store the day after you receive an unwanted gift, many stores have a limited timeframe from the date of purchase during which you may return an item.  Ask about the length of the grace period for gift returns.

You may require identification – A driver’s permit is the most common type of identification needed for a return or exchange, however, other forms of ID may be accepted, along with your name, address and telephone number to complete the return.

The Cooling-Off Rule – The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Cooling-Off Rule allows consumers to return items over $25 within three days of purchase.  However, this applies to sales at a location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business.  Exemptions and other information about the Cooling-Off Rule are available on the FTC website.

If you run into a problem with a return at the customer service desk, ask to speak with a supervisor.  In addition, merchants may be able to accommodate loyal customers, or customers with a credit account.


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