Many Happy Returns: 5 Tips for Getting What You Really Want This Holiday

Even the most appreciative of recipients get something they really can’t use. Whether it was an article of clothing in the wrong size, a tasteless item of décor, or a foodstuff that you’re allergic to, a touching sentiment can sometimes be more trouble than it’s worth. If you have your heart set on returning your holiday gift for something more suitable, following these five simple tips can make it a bearable experience.

Don’t open it! Unless a restocking fee of up to 20% sounds like a good idea, keep that box sealed in its original factory condition, if possible. While it may not always be possible to tell if you will be keeping your gift until after you open it, many electronics, appliances, and collectibles loose value after their seal has been broken. (The same rule goes for excessively shaking, poking, or bending items.)

Go early. Don’t mess around with returning your gift item. If you’re certain it won’t work out, get back to the store ASAP. Find out what time the store opens and get there as early in the morning as possible. Lines start forming in the customer service areas of many big box stores within hours after opening. By taking your enthusiasm for a new gift and putting it towards an early morning return trip, you can avoid hassles and look forward to more time with the right gift!

Bring a receipt. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it surprises me how many people have a receipt, yet fail to bring it. While many stores will do a limited number of returns for people without receipts, they are getting strict with their policies. In an attempt to recoup some losses and avoid fraudulent returns, some stores may only accept 2-3 returns without a receipt from each person per calendar year. Many stores will generate copies of receipts for customers using their driver’s license or the credit card used to make the purchase.

Take a breath. Many people will be trying to return their gifts the week after the holidays, so try to relax a bit. Long lines, snappy customers, tired employees, and a general mood of confusion may meet you at the customer service department. Remember why you’re there, keep focused, and don’t contribute to the problems by being unpleasant in any way.

Be responsible. Enter the store knowing what you will do once you have returned your gift. If you’re just exchanging for a like item, you’re all set! Exit the store as soon as possible to avoid any impulse shopping of more stuff you don’t need. If you are getting cash for your return, know in advance what it will be used for, and stick to your list! The after-Christmas sales can be tempting, and stores are hoping you will spend that money in the store before you leave. If you are planning on buying something else with the money, don’t feel like you have to get it that same day. Prices may drop even lower as the weeks pass after the holidays, and comparison shopping is best done when you aren’t tired and frustrated from the return process.

Sadly, a recent poll by Inside Indiana Business reports that 13 percent of consumers want to return items, but feel that it is too much of a hassle. If you are confident that your perfect gift is out there, take these steps to ensure that you can have it, with minimal effort and aggravation!

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Guest's picture

...don’t contribute to the problems by being unpleasant in any way...


Especially if you don't have your receipt. Being nice and calm and pleasant and polite will get you at lot further than b*tching at the CSA. :) 

Guest's picture

There is just one thing I'm not sure I get, how can you return gifts that people gave you. Nobody gives the receipt with the gift, and I would find it rude to ask the person who gave me the present if I could have the receipt to return it.

Linsey Knerl's picture

I think it depends on the relationship you have with the giver.  In my family, we are very close and honest.  When a relative gives me an article of clothing, for instance, they always include the gift receipt.  Then they say something like, "I know you said you like blue, so I thought this would be perfect for you!  I wasn't sure if you were a size 6 or a size 8, so if you need to exchange for the next size smaller, go ahead!" 

I wouldn't feel comfortable exchanging something that didn't come with a receipt, unless of course, it really didn't work out (getting a blu-ray disc when I have a player for HD discs only.)  In this case, it wouldn't be practical for me to keep it, since I can't use it.  The giver would WANT me to exchange for the same movie on a format I can use, so I would just mention that I could use the recieipt for an exchange, OR just go to any big box store that carried the title I had and do an exchange without the receipt. 

I'm in no way suggesting that people take their gifts for granted and exchange away everything for that ONE coveted gift.  But I can see how it may be uncomfortable or inappropriate to ask for a receipt.

Thanks for the comments!

Lana Goodrich's picture

I think a lot of people keep the gift receipts for the gifts they give. What if you give a gift and the person receives two of the same thing? What if you give a gift and it's defective? Asking for the receipt isn't always a case of wanting something else. And from my point of view - I'd rather my gift get taken back and exchanged for something useful than sit around collecting dust. Who wants to pay money for a dust-collecter?