National Consumers League

Personal Finance

NCL Personal Finance Issues

Stress-free gift returns

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Gift receiptLining up for post-holiday sales and returns? To help ease the burden of returns, the National Consumers League, the nation’s oldest consumer group, offers advice for increasing the chances of successful — and painless — holiday gift returns.

 

As surely as people buy holiday gifts, they also return holiday gifts. Returning merchandise successfully — and getting a refund you’re satisfied with — can pose a few challenges any time of year, but there are a number of things consumers can do before the return, or even before the purchase, to reduce stress, ease the process, and increase the odds of a successful transaction.

 

  • Know a store’s return policy before you buy. When you buy, know what you’re getting into — whether the return will be in the form of cash or store credit, at full price, the price that was paid by the purchaser, or some more recent marked-down price. Know whether having the receipt factors into this so you can decide whether politely going back to the gift giver to ask for the receipt is warranted.
  • Keep a paper trail. Go to the trouble of saving receipts from the beginning and keeping them handy in case there’s a need for a return. Having a receipt dramatically increases the chances of an outcome that’s to your liking.
  • As a gift-giver, give items in their full packaging. And as a recipient, don’t open the packaging of anything you know you don’t want to keep, particularly electronics. Policies that don’t allow returns for opened electronics items are common. If they do take it back, they may withhold a certain percentage of the return price and call it a “restocking fee.”
  • Spend your gift cards. They may lose value over time, so look at the fine print and spend them before they expire.
  • Prepare yourself for the worst. Stores have been tracking customers’ return habits for years. Some retailers subscribe to services that keep track of what consumers are purchasing and bringing back in an attempt to curb consumer return fraud — the returning of stolen goods. For honest consumers, this can cause problems, as some stores limit the amount of return activity to a certain number or value of annual merchandise returns. There’s a possibility if you’ve returned a lot of merchandise, you’ll be denied.
  • Be smart. Don’t wear it. Don’t damage it. Increase the chance of having a successful return by taking care of the item on its way back to the store and being a pleasant, polite customer. The post-holidays are stressful enough. Don’t contribute with a less-likely-to-be-helped attitude.
  • Check out the return policy of an online purchase. You may be able to bring it in-person to the brick-and-mortar store. You may have to pay to send it back, or the vendor may have provided you with a pre-paid postage slip. Or you may not be able to return it at all. Read the delivery information and return instructions for anything you purchase online, particularly if it’s meant to be a gift.