5 Tips for Many Happy (Gift) Returns

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The holiday shopping season isn’t even half over, but many Americans are already asking themselves the Big Question: How will I return all the crappy presents I’ll probably be given this year?

Consumer advocates are already on top of the situation. From Consumer Affairs to Consumer Reports to Consumer World, advice abounds for getting your money’s worth from gifts you don’t want. But Consumer Reports just this week issued the most succinct and helpful list we’ve seen this holiday season …

  1. Know the time frame. Big retailers usually allow 90 days for returns of most items but might have shorter periods for electronics, software, and CDs and DVDs. Retailers sometimes extend deadlines during the holiday shopping season. Electronics bought at Walmart usually must be returned within 15 or 30 days, for example, but this year the clock doesn’t start ticking until December 26 for purchases made between November 15 and December 25.
  2. Get a receipt. Many merchants used to offer at least store credit to shoppers without a receipt, but now some shoppers might be out of luck. If the purchase was made by credit card, debit card, or check, some stores will try to find an electronic receipt, but cash customers might be out of luck.
  3. Bring a driver’s license. Some companies, like Best Buy, require a government-issued ID with a receipt to make a return. (That way they can track serial returners even if the transaction is in cash.)
  4. Be sure before you open the box. Merchants can’t resell an item as new after the package has been opened, so they impose a restocking fee, usually 15 percent of the product’s cost. The fees apply mostly to electronics, but Sears also charges for mattresses, built-in appliances, and special orders on hardware, sporting goods, and other merchandise. Even a missing instruction manual, cords and cables or warranty card can give retailers reason to deny the return. Items like computer software, video games, CDs and DVDs aren’t generally returnable for another title after the seal has been broken. If an item comes with a rebate offer, make sure it works before removing the UPC code to redeem the rebate.
  5. Know where to go. If the item was purchased online and the merchant has a walk-in store, check the website to see whether the store accepts returns to avoid repacking, a post-office trip, and shipping fees.

Concludes Tod Marks, Consumer Reports senior editor and resident shopping expert: “Return policies are a moving target, so you always have to be sure to read the current fine print. Start by purchasing gifts from retailers with flexible return policies, like web merchants that include free prepaid return shipping labels with purchase.”

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