It’s an unavoidable fact of the holiday season—gift returns. Billions of dollars in gifts are returned each holiday season. Consumers rush back to the store or flock to online retailers to return or exchange gifts that they do not want for a variety of reasons–wrong size, duplicate, don’t like it, can’t use it, defective.
While returns may reach a peak after the holidays, consumers are now returning things at record levels due to online shopping. According to the National Retail Federaton, one in five purchases are returned.
Recent retail news indicates that the traditional return or exchange may not be as easy as it’s been in past years; 60% of retailers are said to be rolling out stricter policies. Due to rising transportation and other inflationary costs, companies have been updating their return policies in an effort to curb the costs and hassles of returns. Updates may include a shorter return window, required receipt or proof of purchase, and shipping or restocking fees. Further, a recent Rossen Report states that a significant number of retailers are now charging some sort of fee for returns. To see the list of retailers and the fees one may encounter, check out this Rossen Report with information supplied by Narvar, a returns-management company.
To avoid surprises no matter where you shop, read the fine print or ask questions to familiarize yourself with the return or exchange options before purchase and include a gift receipt with gifts to reduce hassles for the recipient. Consumer Reports outlined the return guidelines for 2022 of popular retailers categorizing them as the “best and worst return policies.”
Make your returns (holiday or otherwise) go more smoothly with these tips:
- Know the retailer’s policies before making a purchase. What is the return policy and how does it work? Restocking fee? Cash refunds? Exchanges only? Store credit? Return shipping? Can online purchase be returned to local store? Be aware of third-party sellers who may have a different return policy than the retailer (i.e., Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy, eBay, and Newegg).
- Understand product warranty. Most electronics and home appliances come with warranties that are to be fulfilled by the manufacturer, not the retailer. How are returns and repairs handled if an item does not work, stops working or needs replacement parts?
- Keep your receipts and packaging. Most retailers will only accept returns and exchanges with a receipt and in original packaging making it important to keep receipts or give gift receipts. Without a receipt, a retailer may refuse a return or offer store credit at the most recent lowest price of the item. Cash for a returned item is usually only offered with the original receipt and when cash was used at the time of sale. Original packaging means keeping all tags in place; if the tag includes a price, mark it out or remove at the perforation. Also, it is best to not open the original package until you are sure you will be keeping the gift. Personalized gifts are usually nonreturnable.
- Bring your ID. To avoid holiday return scams, many stores ask to see your ID when you return an item. Some chains use computerized return authorization systems to detect abuse and track your return history. Without a receipt, retailers may deny a return or exchange if history shows you are a frequent returner without receipt.
- Return or exchange in a timely fashion. The window for returns or exchanges varies by retailer. Some retailers are expanding their window while others are shortening it. Time is of the essence for ensuring that the chance to exchange or return an item is not missed.
- Practice kindness and patience. Waiting a few days after the holidays will reduce crowds at the return counter and clerks will be less frazzled. If you are not satisfied with the way the return or exchange was handled by the clerk, ask to speak to a manager and deal with the problem in a congenial manner—keep your cool!
For additional tips and to protect yourself from holiday scams and theft, visit the BBB Holiday Tips page.
Jessica Dickler. 25 November 2022. Don’t bank on free returns: 60% of retailers roll out stricter policies. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/11/25/retailers-roll-out-stricter-return-policies-ahead-of-the-holidays.html
Gordon, Samantha B. 8 November 2022. Guide to Returning Gifts: Retailers with the Best and Worst Return Policies. Consumer Reports. https://www.consumerreports.org/returns-refunds-exchanges/guide-to-returning-gifts-a8582928649/
Rossen, Jeff. 13 June 2023. Rossen Reports: These Retailers Will Now Charge You For Returns. https://www.kcci.com/article/these-retailers-will-now-charge-for-returns/44189497