Navigating Holiday Returns

Jennifer Jolly, The Good Idea Gal, joined us with some tips to help us reduce stress and maximize our money when returning holiday gifts:

  1. Don't Open the Box:   Especially for with electronics, where you could be responsible for "restocking fees." At major electronics retailers like Best Buy, restocking fees are 15% on items like laptops, GPS units and digital cameras – and as high as 25% for special order products, including appliances. And this is true at most any store – once you've opened a CD, DVD or Video Game, they are not at all returnable at all unless they're defective.
  2. Do Keep Your Receipt:    Sounds obvious, right?  But you really need to hang onto those receipts so you can get full credit for your return. Most stores offer deep discounts after the holidays and without a receipt they're only going to offer you the current price of the item. So, that $50 sweater you want to exchange may only be going for $25.00 on Dec. 26 – so that's all the credit you will get for it. There are a few exceptions to this rule – at Macys and Bloomingdales, they put a bar-coded sticker on each item purchased.
  3. Do Watch the Clock: Stores including Target & Wal-mart both have pretty standard 90-day return policies on the majority of items – but like most, they are more strict on electronics. Don't wait on those items and be sure to read the fine print re: deadlines and possible restocking fees.  Some retailers offer "extended holiday returns" to account for the fact that you may have started your holiday shopping in mid-November, but won't be giving gifts out until Christmastime.
  4. Use "Smart Labels" for Return Shipping:   Most e-tailers provide customers access to return shipping labels. These labels are bar-coded and connected to the products you bought, so be sure to use them instead of making your own.  For example, returns on Amazon.com are pretty straight forward and enable customers to print out a "smart label" to mail in returns. Amazon promises a refund within 30 days, but you will be on the hook for return shipping costs unless the return was caused by an error on their end (if they sent the wrong item, it was damaged, etc.).
  5. Do Swap or Sell Unwanted Gift Cards:  Gift cards are always a popular gift this time of year ... If you get one you know you won't use, there are sites like swapagift.com where you can swap them with someone for one your want or you can sell it for say 70% of its value and pocket the cash. The sites do charge small transaction fees.
  6. Better to mail it back or return it to the store?   Most stores maintaining both an online and offline presence will accept returns in-store, but terms do vary, so be sure to check the stores web site for specific instructions first. While Wal-mart stores will accept walk-in returns for ANY items bought on its site, at Target, you can also return most items in-store, but you must first go to their web site to obtain an "in-store receipt" from their Online Returns Center.
  7. Is it true consumers can be "blacklisted" for returning items too often?   Many retailers do have systems in place to track "serial returners." Some limit how many items you can return in a given time period. They're trying to guard against fraudulent returns, but if you're a normal consumer, you shouldn't worry about being blacklisted. No retailer wants to turn away a customer (and they'll tell you, some of the best customers are the most frequent returners).
  8. How to return gift without a receipt:
  • Look inside the package.
  • Examine price tags, if you can.
  • Keep item clean and pieces intact.
  • Check brand names.
  • Visit possible retailers.
  • Be prompt with returns.
  • If all else fails, try re-gifting!
  • Why not consign it?

For more information and great ideas, visit Jennifer's website.

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