12 Tips for Gracefully Returning Holiday Gifts

Photo by pathdoc / Shutterstock.com

Gift cards are America’s favorite holiday gift. When the National Retail Federation surveyed adults who plan to celebrate the 2016 winter holidays, 61 percent said they wanted to receive gift cards and certificates. Other popular gifts include:

  • Clothing and accessories: 54 percent
  • Books, CDs, DVDs or videos: 40 percent
  • Consumer electronics: 32 percent
  • Jewelry: 23 percent
  • Home decor: 23 percent
  • Personal care or beauty items: 21 percent
  • Sporting goods: 19 percent
  • Home improvement items: 17 percent

It can be difficult to know exactly what loved ones want for the holidays. So, if you have received the wrong item, here are 12 tips for returning unwanted gifts.

1. Adjust your expectations

If your gift included a gift receipt, you’re golden. If not, be realistic. A merchant is more likely to offer store credit than cash back.

2. Suss out the situation

When the gift you’ve received is a mystery — there’s no gift receipt and you don’t know where it came from — you might need to ask the giver.

Tact and caution are in order. You don’t want to hurt the feelings of someone who was kind enough to give you a present. It’s also possible Aunt Birdie found your socket set on the sales rack for a rock-bottom price she’d rather not disclose.

Here’s where your powers of intuition come in. If you think the gift-giver might be offended, ask yourself if it is worth returning the gift. Either way, be sure to first make it clear how much you appreciate the giver’s thoughtfulness.

3. Leave packaging intact and do your research

Leave tags on merchandise and return only items in unopened packaging and in unworn, pristine condition.

Before setting foot outside the house, go online to learn stores’ return policies. Find out if rules are different for items purchased online.

4. Don’t wait

Holding onto Hanukkah gifts until April only makes returns harder. Return gifts in the first two weeks of January if possible. That’s when merchants are most likely to still have your gift item in stock. It’s also when they’ll be most receptive to your plea for cash back or credit without a gift receipt.

5. Avoid store rush hours

Plan to make returns early in the day or during slow periods, especially if you want to avoid waiting in long lines, or if your return requires a conversation or extra attention from clerks.

6. Return gifts to their stores of origin

Generally, you’ll have an easier time returning an item to the store from which it came. Even if you don’t have a gift receipt, the merchant might be able to track down your purchase through electronic records.

If you don’t know where a gift came from, try taking it back to a store where you are a frequent shopper or have a loyalty card. (Make sure the store carries the item you’re returning, though.) Store loyalty counts for a lot these days and some stores bend over backwards to please loyal customers.

7. Bring your ID

Stores might ask for a couple of pieces of identification, including a driver’s license or government-issued ID. So, be prepared. Store returns are a huge source of fraud. The National Retail Federation says fraudulent returns cost retailers billions of dollars annually.

8. Treat return receipts like cash

When you return a gift for store credit, the merchant will give you either a paper receipt for credit or a card with merchandise credit stored on it. Either way, treat it like cash. If you lose it, it’s gone. Few if any merchants keep accounts of credit due customers.

9. Read the fine print

If you’ve received store credit for a return, find out how long you have to spend it. Some stores allow returns made only within six months or a year. Others have more generous policies.

10. Behave yourself

Gift returns — frankly, any trip to a store in the midst of the frenetic post-holiday season — are likely to try your patience. With that in mind, go when you are rested and have time to wait. Stick a snack bar in your pocket. Bring a book or game app, music and headphones for waiting in line. Bring your sense of humor. Leave the little ones at home if humanly possible.

You may well encounter frustration. Try to take it like the grownup you are.

11. Try regifting

If you can’t return a gift, you might know someone else who’d love it. Regifting isn’t always a tacky practice. It can be eco-friendly and easy on your budget. But there’s a good way and many bad ways to regift. Learn more: “7 Secrets to ‘Regifting’ Without Getting Caught.”

12. Consider eBay

If regifting isn’t cutting it, your final options — before donating the item to charity — are to sell the item online or at a yard sale. For more ideas, check out our story on “Where to Sell Your Stuff for Top Dollar” and “9 Sites You Haven’t Heard of to Sell Your Stuff.”

What’s your approach to returns? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
5 Cheap and Easy Ways to Make Your Car Smell Delightful
5 Cheap and Easy Ways to Make Your Car Smell Delightful

These tips will leave your ride smelling delightful for next to nothing. Some options are also chemical-free.

5 Reasons You Should Work for as Long as You Live
5 Reasons You Should Work for as Long as You Live

These benefits might make you think twice about retirement.

10 Colleges That Offer Free Tuition for Seniors
10 Colleges That Offer Free Tuition for Seniors

These schools let retirement-age students study, tuition-free, while earning college credit.

Could You Give Up These 7 Expenses to Save Thousands of Dollars a Year?
Could You Give Up These 7 Expenses to Save Thousands of Dollars a Year?

You could save more than $30,000 by setting aside these costly expenses for just one year.

5 Simple Steps to an Awesome Retirement
5 Simple Steps to an Awesome Retirement

The path to your dream retirement begins with these five steps. How many have you already taken?

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership
How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership

The warehouse club often has some of the cheapest gas in town. Here’s how you can get it as a nonmember.

10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home
10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home

If you like to keep things simple, avoid these purchases.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

Vacuums from this brand can last a half-century, if not longer — and they’re hot on the resale market.

A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today
A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today

A few steps can keep your phone from ringing when a spammer calls.

This Company Makes the Best Tires in America
This Company Makes the Best Tires in America

Driver satisfaction with tires is at an all-time high, but one brand stands out.

This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance
This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance

One type of pain is especially associated with cognitive decline.

Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?
Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?

Knowing when to claim can help you maximize benefits.

Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs
Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs

Don’t let these health care expenses catch you off guard in retirement.

8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon
8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon

The giant retailer shines when it comes to these things, from basics to hard-to-find specialty goods.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

12 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday
12 Deep Discounts Available on Amazon This Friday

These items are steeply discounted — but the deals won’t last long.

5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food
5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food

Anyone can take advantage of these resources.

Beware This Hidden Ingredient in Rotisserie Chicken
Beware This Hidden Ingredient in Rotisserie Chicken

Something foul may lurk in those delicious, ready-to-eat birds.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home
6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home

Stashing money around the house is anything but harmless.

5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees
5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees

All of these states are located in the same region of the nation.

36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon
36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon

The writing is on the wall for dozens of things we have grown up with.

5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic
5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic

Sometimes the brand-name version is clearly superior.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.