Tips to follow for many happy Christmas gift returns

Know your store policies and follow a few simple rules to make your gift returns and exchanges go smoothly this year.

Didn't get quite what you wanted for Christmas? Follow these tips for many happy returns. Photo: Tumblr
Didn't get quite what you wanted for Christmas? Follow these tips for many happy returns. Photo: Tumblr

SAN DIEGO, Dec. 25, 2016 – Sure, it’s the thought that counts when you receive a Christmas gift, even one you don’t like or can’t possibly use. Besides, you can always return it for something you’ve been meaning to buy for yourself, thanks to Aunt Amanda’s misfire.

You won’t be alone. According to the Better Business Bureau, nearly one-third of Christmas gift recipients will return at least one of their gifts. A 2013 Daily Mail survey found that 42 percent of all women will return at least one gift from their husbands, who you think would hit the mark a little closer to the target. The item returned most often: clothing. Other categories with high rates of return: athletic shoes, video games and glassware.

Optoro, which processes and resells returns for many major retailers, reports shoppers return nearly $70 billion worth of purchases during the holiday season, about 15 percent of the total number of gifts purchased.

If you've got to return that unwanted Christmas gifts, do your homework.
If you’ve got to return that unwanted Christmas gift, do your homework.

So before you join the mob right back where you started on Black Friday, it’s best to be well prepared and well armed when you hit the return counter. Know the store policies in advance or you could wait in a very, very long line without being able to complete your return or exchanges. Worse yet, you could ship back an online purchase only to find it right back in your mailbox without being processed.

Returns are not required by law. Surprised? Most firms do offer returns and exchanges to keep consumers happy, but they can put any limits on them they want and often do, especially after the Christmas holiday season. Return policies must be disclosed to customers prior to sale under the law in nearly every state, so you can check store policies online first.

An excellent resource to start with is the website

Whether going into a store or shipping an online purchase back, you fare best making all returns with a receipt within 30 days or less. Stores can limit returns to credit only with or without a receipt, require returns within a limited time or state all sales are final. Some stores will take returns but charge a restocking fee.

If you’re heading to the stores in person, Macy’s, Target, Toys R Us and Walmart all allow refunds or exchanges within 90 days or purchase. At Target, electronic and entertainment items are limited to 30 days and must be unopened for a refund; some open items are accepted for exchange only. Special note: drones can be returned for two weeks ONLY starting Dec. 26. All exceptions are noted on the original receipt.

JC Penney accepts returns within 45 days; Dillard’s allows 30 days. Sears accepts returns through Jan. 31; Marshalls and T.J. Maxx have a deadline of Jan. 23; and Best Buy, which limits returns purchased between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 to Jan. 15. At Best Buy the original receipt, gift receipt, or packing slip and materials are required, no exceptions.

Kohl’s will accept returns on any item, anytime, for any reason; with a receipt you will get a full refund or exchange; without a receipt you receive exchange or credit. Costco also has a generous any item, anytime return policies with these exceptions: TVs, computers, cameras, MP3 players, phones and projectors.

According to a National Retail Federation survey, half of online retailers surveyed will allow free return shipping for unwanted items in many categories and provide a pre-paid mailing label you can print out at home. These include Macy’s, Target, Saks, Bloomingdale’s, Amazon, Gap and Old Navy. So if you can return the item with free shipping, take advantage of it and avoid the lines.

But if you want to hit the stores in person, most stores with physical locations will let you return online orders in person in their stores 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 with original packaging if possible. Two notable exceptions are Sports Authority and Ann Taylor.

What about gift cards? Are you stuck with one you can’t use? Not necessarily. Target will now exchange your unwanted gift card from hundreds of other stores for a Target gift card. Sounds great doesn’t it? But you won’t get the face value; instead, Target offers the “resale value.” This can be as little as half the face value.

Still, it’s better than nothing, and you get your Target replacement gift card on the spot. This program now will be available year-round. Go to the store’s electronics counter to check it out.

But if you can wait, try a website like or and see if you can do any better. Or go the regifting route for someone’s birthday later this year.

Be sure you know store policy and have your receipts if possible for easy returns. Photo: Better Business Bureau
Be sure you know store policy and have your receipts if possible for easy returns. (Photo: Better Business Bureau)

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

Watch the clock. It’s up to you to verify your purchase with a receipt or credit card statement and to know the deadline. Although most stores are fairly generous after the holidays, you are usually safe to assume 30 days after Christmas (with the most notable exception being Best Buy).

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. Most stores have several requirements for handing over a full refund, and the first rule of returns is keep the box sealed. When in doubt, resist opening the gift. Packaged toys, housewares or electronics may be rejected as a return if you have opened the box, with the only exception being a damaged item (and even then you may have to verify you aren’t the person who caused the damage).

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 the gift and the seller won’t take it back, dispute the purchase with your credit card issuer. Be sure to file your dispute within 60 days of the original billing date.

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 take our your frustration over a retailer’s policy with its employees if you can’t get the refund you want. It is your obligation as the consumer to note the return policy, hang on to the receipt and actually return the item to the right store in the first place.

Some stores will ask for ID, and many now track individual return histories.

Here’s why: the National Retail Federation estimated that during the past holiday season retailers would lose between $9 and $15 billion to return fraud. This theft is why many retailers require customers returning merchandise to show identification. Retailers estimate 25 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 10 requires 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 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 Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. 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 © 2015 by Falcon Valley Group



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