Better Business Bureau Column

No one enjoys taking things back to stores or sending products back to online retailers, and doing so after the holidays can be especially onerous. Better Business Bureau has tips to minimize gift return distress. 

“Knowing store policies and planning ahead can reduce the stress of returning gifts,” said Stephanie Garland, of Springfield’s BBB office. “You’ll help yourself and gift recipients if you find out how a store handles returns before you buy. It’s always better to ask about the policy than to find out you made the wrong assumption.” 

Remember: Stores aren’t legally required to accept items for refund, exchange or credit unless goods were defective or misrepresented. Some stores provide refunds, while others only issue store credits. A few stores consider all sales to be final. Seasonal stores may have limited hours after the holidays, making it awkward to return unwanted items.  

BBB tips can help shoppers avoid post-holiday frustration: 

•Ask the store about its return policy. Can a customer obtain a refund, a store credit or exchange unwanted merchandise? How long is the period when returns are allowed? Some stores have extended return periods for gifts, while others limit returns to a week or less after the item is purchased. 

•Ask for a gift receipt and enclose it with the gift. Don’t remove electronics or similar products from their boxes before wrapping. The original packaging may be required for a return. 

•Don’t assume that regular return policies apply to sale or clearance items. Some merchants consider the sale of such items to be final, so ask before buying. If you are the gift recipient, do not assume you have the right to return or exchange an unwanted gift. Like the shopper, you are bound by the merchant’s return policy. Health regulations, which can prohibit the return of hats and intimate apparel, also may apply.  

•Ask about restocking fees. Some merchants charge a restocking or “open box” fee for returns of electronic products or large-ticket items. A restocking fee can be as high as 25 percent of the purchase price.  

•Look for a posted return policy when shopping online. If returns are permitted, ask what procedures and time frames need to be followed. Find out whether shipping fees are charged for returning items and whether shipping costs or restocking fees are deducted from the price of returned items.  

•Save your receipt. Keep items in their original packaging and leave tags on clothing. If you remove the price or black it out on the tag, try to leave the item number or bar code visible as it will make it easier for a store to process the return. 

•Time your returns to avoid hassles. Return lines can be lengthy the day after Christmas, but don’t wait too long to return items. Pick a time when the store is unlikely to be crowded, and be polite when talking to customer service clerks. If you are a regular customer or have a store credit account, mention that as you discuss return options. Merchants are usually willing to accommodate loyal customers.  

Consumers can learn how to protect themselves or find BBB Business Profiles and BBB Charity Reviews by calling 888-996-3887 or by going online to

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