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6 Rules for Returning Unwanted Gifts

So you got an ugly sweater for Christmas—and it’s not the trendy kind. Or your Hanukkah gift card from your aunt was not really for a place you’d ever go, proving that “Yes, you CAN get it wrong with a gift card sometimes.” Or, that home décor item just doesn’t go with your current style. What do you do?

Don’t despair. There are many ways to dispose of, exchange and/or not waste perfectly good merchandise, even if it’s not necessarily perfect for you.

Things to keep in mind when returning gifts

  1. Bring your receipt, if you have one – It’s your fast-track to getting the most money or credit back from the retailer. Some stores will only let you return the gift for store credit without one.  Or, you may be offered the lowest selling price within the last 45 days.  Even if you have the receipt, don’t bank on getting cash back. Retailers want to keep the sale, and many only offer store credit or exchange.  If you get a store credit, ascertain if there is an expiration date so that you don’t miss out.  No gift receipt from the gift giver?  Don’t be shy about asking for the receipt, especially if it’s a clothing item or anything else that comes in different sizes or colors.  You can always say it doesn’t fit, or doesn’t go with your home décor.
  2. Bring your ID – Return fraud costs retailers billions of dollars each year. As a result, many stores track individual customer returns, and you may be asked to provide identification when you return an item.
  3. Don’t dawdle. Return it ASAP – Many retailers extend their return policies for the holidays, some until January 31st for items purchased Nov. 1 – Dec. 31. (Normally, items must be returned within 30 days.) Some only extend returns through January 15th. Better to be safe than sorry, so return your items ASAP (i.e., the first two weeks of January) to avoid roadblocks.   Also, keep in mind that one return policy does not fit all—some electronics like televisions, cell phones, computers and computer accessories, digital cameras, GPS units, drones and digital music players have shorter return windows.
  4. Check the Return Policy online before you go – Was it purchased online or in-store? Can you return an online purchase to the store?  There may be restrictions on returning sale or clearance merchandise, or returns may not apply to certain brands.  The online retailer may not return shipping costs to you either.  And, the online return policy may be different than the in-store policy. Best to do some quick research before you get in the return line at the store—did we mention there would be lines?  Count on it. Or plan your trip to avoid peak times.
  5. Keep it in the packaging and consider the item – If you have any doubt you’ll be keeping a gift, don’t take the item out of the original packaging or cut tags off clothing. This especially applies to CDs, DVDs, electronics, software and video games.  Or, the store might take it back opened, but charge a 10-15% restocking fee.  Still others refuse Christmas season items (Sears), cell phones sold with service plans (Best Buy), wine (Amazon — but who returns wine anyway?), and final sale items (TJMaxx). And, keep in mind that some items may not even be returnable at all – such as, hats, bathing suits, lingerie — due to health regulations.
  6. What about gift cards? – If you get a gift card that you can’t use, don’t let it expire in your wallet.  Consider re-gifting it or use one of the trade-in programs offered at Walmart or Amazon. You can also sell it on these websites: CardPool, Raise, or Giftcards.  Check out first to see where you can get the maximum value for your cards.  You might not get full value, but you also won’t totally be wasting a loved one’s money either. Need more info?  Check out our recent blog on Gift Card Tricks.

The last resort
If you’re stuck, you can always re-gift, donate merchandise or gift cards to charity, or donate to schools for auctions and student incentive awards.  You can also donate clothing to a worthy cause like Dress for Success, and know that you might be helping someone less fortunate to look their best for a job interview.  What about eBay?  That gift you were lukewarm on could make you some cash with a few pics and a quick post.

Finally, be nice!  A little sugar goes a long way when you are dealing with retail representatives who have been working long hours and dealing with cranky holiday shoppers for a month – #overit.  Remember, you are asking THEM for a courtesy, particularly when you are receipt-less or have an unconventional return.  Why not let your yuletide spirit spill over into January?  It will set you up for a great start to the New Year!

With that, Happy New Year, and MANY happy returns!

Resources: Time,, The Balance, Better Business Bureau

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