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Christmas present returns can be a holiday nightmare if you don't know the rules

Posted by Mitch Lipka  December 29, 2011 01:00 PM

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Most of the gifts have probably been opened by now and you might have an idea about returning a few. That’s not always as easy .

So, here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to returning gifts.

The National Retail Federation said about 35 percent of gift recipients brought back at least one of the presents they received last holiday season. So, if you’re planning to do this quickly – like tomorrow – be prepared to have a lot of company.

It’s important to know retailers’ return policies before you bring back merchandise. Policies vary considerably, so know the rules before you get to avoid wasting your time and getting turned away.

Return policies can vary from allowing a refund without a receipt – the most liberal of all policies – to allowing no returns at all. State law says a retailer can establish its own policy as long as it is conspicuously disclosed at the time of purchase. Be prepared, if you don’t have a receipt, to either be turned away or get a store credit at the lowest price the item has sold for.

The best bet for a successful return is to go back to the store of purchase with a receipt or a gift receipt. And, the Retail Federation said, be sure to have the original packaging along with tags. If the return is an electronics item, brace yourself for the possibility of being charged a restocking fee.

When it comes to online returns, check to see if the merchant will pay for shipping. Quite a few will either send you prepaid mailing labels or have a way to print them out from web sites or emails.

While it might seem prudent to avoid the return crowds over the next couple of days, you probably don’t want to wait too long. Some retailers restrict how long you have to make a return of holiday purchases. The Better Business Bureau notes that retailers with tight deadlines set their return clock ticking from the date of purchase.

So, enjoy what you’ve received. And for what you don’t like so much, best wishes for many happy returns.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Mitch Lipka is one of America's leading consumer journalists and advocates. He is an expert in product safety, recalls, scams, and helping consumers get out of jams. He is a nationally known consumer columnist and runs He lives in Worcester. You can find him on Facebook or reach him at


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