3 tips on how to return unwanted gifts

December 27, 2010

Lindsay Dunsmuir is a Reuters journalist, based in New York. The opinions expressed are her own.

A woman passes a holiday shopping display in New York City, December 6, 2010.  REUTERS/Mike Segar You’re stuffed with turkey, the wine’s a distant headache, and the last of the relatives have finally trampled out the door. All that’s left is a pile of gifts – some wanted, some not so much – and an avid plan to take the unsought-after to the retailer whence they came.

And while Amazon has apparently patented a way to return online gifts before they’re sent, according the Washington Post, we’re not there yet. Until that day comes, here are some well-worn tips:

1. Read the return policy
Sounds simple. But it can save you hassle and money before you even walk out of your door.  Many stores operate a 30-day return policy, but it can depend on the item. Electronics, such as computers and digital cameras, tend to have more restrictions. Some retailers, such as Macy’s, give you 180 days for returns, while others, including Best Buy, give you only 14 days to send back computers. Toys-R-Us has extended their return policy from 30 to 90 days.

If you want a full refund, you’ll typically need a receipt. If you don’t have one, be warned. “If you don’t have the receipt or gift receipt, the store could give you the lowest price that they sold it for,” says Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumerworld.org, an online resource for consumers that conducts an annual survey of retail return policies.

That said, a receipt is less important than it once was. Many retailers, such as Target, can now use the barcode on the tag to look up the details of when the item was purchased. However, if there is no receipt or tag on the item, the retailer won’t be able to find out the price it was sold for, and is unlikely to exchange or refund.

Then there are restocking fees. These are charged when you have broken the seal on the gift, particularly on electronic items. They are often in the region of 15 percent of the purchase price, but can be higher.

For example, Overstock.com charges up to a 60 percent restocking fee for some open items. On the flip side, Best Buy announced in the run up to the holiday season that it has eliminated restocking fees for most of its items. For any fees charged there since November 17th, you should be able to get a refund.

2. Sometimes bricks-and-mortar is best
In this tech-savvy world, it’s probably just as quick and painless to return products bought online to the virtual store, right? Wrong. Two things to remember here:

First, Amazon.com has 30 different return policies depending on the item, says Dworsky, so it’s not always a case of online is easier.

Second, with the exception of those known for free returns shipping, such as shoe-retailer Zappos.com, you will probably end up paying for the privilege. The best option to save some money, and any unexpected credit card nasties, is to take the item back to the retailer’s bricks and mortar store, if they have one.

3. Within the rules, but they still won’t take it?
So you’ve braved the queues, taken the item back to the store, believe you are within your rights for an exchange or refund, but the assistant says otherwise. What’s the next step?

If the goods are defective, you should be well covered. Stores must offer to repair, replace or refund the item, according to consumer rights rules in many states. But if that’s not the problem and you’re still not getting traction, the best course of action is to ask to speak to the store’s manager.

If that doesn’t work, go to the retailer’s customer service or complaints department. Failing that, the next port of call is your local consumer affairs agency or Attorney General’s office.

One comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

It’s really useful to get advice like this. So many retailers do not make their returns policy clear. Indeed, as the article says,even the sales assistants do not always know it either!
More such clear and helpful advice please!

Posted by Robinsrj | Report as abusive