Getting the most from your holiday returns
The holidays are a time for celebration and gifts, but not all presents hit the mark and returning them doesn’t feel very festive.
Nearly a quarter of the people responding to a 2015 holiday survey by shopping app Retale said they were likely to return or exchange at least one of the presents they received.
A recent holiday shopping report by personal finance website NerdWallet found that clothing was the most commonly returned gift last year, at 14 percent.
Many retailers allow people to exchange or return goods that didn’t satisfy, but the policies often must be followed to a T.
“Read the fine print,” said Narayanan Janakiraman, an assistant professor in marketing at the University of Texas at Arlington who writes about return policies. “Most of us know that the fine print has got all kinds of restrictions on what is qualified for a return.”
First, comb through the policy to see if your product is eligible for returns. Many retailers exclude certain categories, including clearance products, opened software and video games (usually eligible only for exchange), worn clothing and gift cards. For example, Best Buy won’t accept returns on digital content and prepaid cards.
Next, ensure you have all that’s required for returns — usually your receipt or gift receipt and all of the item parts and packaging in good condition. You also may have to pay a restocking fee.
Then, decide the timing. Dec. 26 is predicted to be the second-busiest shopping day of 2016, according to research firm ShopperTrak, so taking something back that day may not be comfortable if you don’t like crowds. For returns by mail, ensure that the package will reach the retailer before its deadline.
Janakiraman said lenient return periods can be risky.
“The more you procrastinate, and the more time you have it, the more you feel ownership of it,” Janakiraman said. That means you may fail to return the gift.
Mailing back returns is one convenient way to unload unwanted gifts, but it could come at a cost. Some retailers charge a return shipping fee for using their prepaid label and deduct the cost from your refund. That could make in-store returns more affordable.
Some major outlets like Walmart allow consumers to return gifts that were bought online at a physical store location. If you decide to go to a store, take the receipt, a form of identification and the payment method used (such as a credit card) if you bought the gift.
Ryan Koral of Michigan thought his local sporting goods store would be able to pull up his order via his credit card when he recently went to make a return within the policy period. But he was surprised that a receipt was required. The best he would get without a receipt was a store credit for the lowest discounted price of the item.
Having a gift receipt doesn’t ensure a monetary refund, you may be offered merchandise credit.
The key is to read the return policy before you do anything and then decide on your course of action early, Janakiraman said. Return policies generally are detailed online, but you may need to search the retailer’s website for the fine print.