Returns and exchanges: Know store policies and your rights under MD law
One of the great joys of the holiday season is finding and giving the “perfect” gift to a loved one. But it’s a fact of life that, despite our best efforts, sometimes the gift isn’t so perfect after all. Maybe the shirt doesn’t fit right, the coffee maker arrives broken, your little one already has a singing Elmo doll; the list could go on and on. You may find yourself in the unfortunate situation of having to return or exchange a gift you bought for someone else, or received yourself, and we are here to give you some tips on helping this transaction go smoothly.
Regardless of how you are purchasing a gift, check the merchant’s exchange and return policies. Maryland law is pretty standard regarding refund and exchange policies for traditional brick-and-mortar shops (we’ll get to online purchases in a moment). Here are the basics.
• Retailers are allowed to set whatever policy they like for returns or exchanges (including NO refunds or exchanges), as long as it posts the policy in writing or prints it on the receipt. It’s a good idea to always ask for a receipt or a copy of the retailer’s policy when making a gift purchase.
• If a store does allow refunds for purchases, it may also set whatever policies it chooses (limitations on number of returns, how long a customer has to make a return, a restocking fee, etc.); again, as long as the policy is disclosed in writing prior to the purchase being made.
• What if the store has no policy posted in the store or on the receipt? Refunds and exchanges should be allowed within a reasonable time frame as long as the product is still in good working order. Still, it’s best to ask the merchant before making the purchase.
• Broken or defective item? Merchants are required to repair the item, replace it, or give you a refund—regardless of the store’s return policy. (Make sure you tell them the item is broken or defective.) Gift-givers, remember that recipients may need to return or exchange items themselves. Just to be on the safe side, try to obtain a gift receipt or give the original receipt (sealed in an envelope, if you wish) to the recipient.
For online purchases, you should check for the merchant’s website for its exchange and return policy, including whether there are limitations on exchanges and returns, or whether there is a restocking fee or you are required to pay return shipping.
To best protect your options, keep records of your purchase and shipping slips, and have the contact information for customer service handy in case there is a problem.