Returning unwanted Christmas gifts: Post-holiday tips

Many happy returns, Santa. (Credit:
Many happy returns, Santa. (Credit: "Joz" Jimenez, Creative Commons License 2.0)

SAN DIEGO, December 25, 2013 – Maybe you still believe that old adage, “it’s the thought that counts.” But when it comes around to those well-intentioned Christmas presents from friends and relatives that could end up shattering your self image, not to mention your meticulous decor, you can hold the thought while still returning the Christmas gifts you neither like nor need.

Don’t worry. You won’t be alone. According to the Better Business Bureau, nearly one-third of Christmas gift recipients will return at least one of those problem gifts this year.

But before you head back to the mall on December 26 to return those gifts and buy what you really wanted, it’s important to understand individual store policies and be prepared. If not, you could stand in a long line only to feel frustrated when you discover you won’t be able to complete your return or exchange. Many retailers have toughened up their return policies, and others have shortened the time period for you to return Christmas gifts.

Returns are offered as a customer service, but no company is required by law to offer returns or even exchanges. Stores can limit returns to credit only with or without a receipt, require returns within 30 days, or state that all sales are final. Some stores will take returns but charge a restocking fee, most common with electronics.

Most states do require the policy be disclosed to customers prior to purchase through signage or on sales tags. Most stores with physical locations will let you order online but return in person with no problem as long as you have a receipt and it is within the allowed time frame, and the items are unused and unworn. Exceptions include Sports Authority and Ann Taylor. If you bought online, policies should be posted on the retailer’s site.

Without a store receipt you are likely to get store credit rather than cash. The credit may expire if not used within a certain length of time. If the item went on sale since it was purchased, you may receive the sale price and not the full price the giver originally paid. The website has a detailed list of return policies for many national retailers including Best Buy, Sears, Target, Toys R Us, Amazon, and Macy’s.

Know store policies and have receipts and ID ready before you get into the returns and exchanges line.

The Better Business Bureau recommends the following tips for smooth returns and exchanges:

Watch the clock. The return clock started ticking the day your gift was purchased, not the day you received it. Many retailers may only allow returns within a certain time frame and that time frame often begins when the item is purchased, not when it is given. It’s up to you to verify your purchase with a receipt or credit card statement and know when the returns are accepted by, which is generally 30 days from the date of purchase.

Time your returns. Return lines can be lengthy the day after Christmas, so it’s tempting to avoid them. Smart, but don’t wait too long to return items. Pick a time when the store is unlikely to be crowded, and be polite when talking to customer service clerks.

Don’t open packaged gifts. When in doubt, step away from the scissors. Packaged toys, housewares or electronics can be difficult to return once opened, unless of course the item is damaged. Most stores have several requirements for handing over a full refund and the first one is keep the box sealed.

What if a gift is damaged, or doesn’t work? Regardless of a store’s return policy, consumers have a right to get the full purchase price back if items sold as new are damaged, not working or used when represented as being brand new.

If you charged a gift that wasn’t as advertised and the seller won’t take it back, you may be able to dispute the purchase with your credit card issuer. A dispute should be filed in writing within 60 days of the date you were billed. When you can’t resolve your issue with a retailer, complaints should go to your state attorney general, state Department of Consumer Affairs, the Federal Trade Commission ( or 1-877-382-4357) and to the Better Business Bureau at

Don’t get angry with store personnel if your return hits a snag. It is not unreasonable to require customers to provide a sales slip or gift receipt to establish where and when the item was purchased, and at what price. Some stores will ask for ID, and many now track individual return histories.

The reason return policies have tightened up is the growth of return fraud. The National Retail Federation estimates that retailers will lose $3.4 billion this year to return fraud. This problem is why many retailers require customers returning merchandise to show identification. Retailers estimate that 13.97 percent of the returns made throughout the year without a receipt are fraudulent. Nearly three-quarters now require customers returning items without a receipt to show identification. One in ten require customers making returns with a receipt to show ID.

Remember, if all else fails, there is always regifting, donating, or selling the unwanted item on eBay. You didn’t spend your money on the item. It’s not the end of the world if you can’t get anything back. Give it a good home with someone who will appreciate it. One man’s trash is always another man’s treasure.

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in the Communities at The Washington Times. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.

Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News when quoting from or linking to this story.  

Copyright © 2013 by Falcon Valley Group

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