12 Tips for Gracefully Returning Holiday Gifts

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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.

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