Tips for smooth gift returns

It’s the season of giving…and receiving…and returning.

But most merchants are prepared, starting with the day after Christmas. This year, for example, Nordstrom introduced its hassle-free return policy for online orders, including free shipping on returns. And 37 percent of retailers ease up on return policies during the holiday season, says the National Retail Federation.

Jeanette Pavini, a consumer finance expert and host of a California consumer affairs TV show, answers some common questions about returns:

First of all, is it OK to ask for a gift’s receipt? “When it comes down to family and close friends,” Pavini says, “we’re comfortable saying, ‘I love this, but I want another color.’ With business relationships, Pavini advises keeping your mouth shut. It’s not worth the risk.

What should I bring? “Come armed with as much as you have: receipt, original tags and boxing,” she says. The receipt is key. If an item’s price has dropped, most retailers will provide a full refund in cash or store credit. “I have saved so much money doing that.”

How about restocking fees? You’ll usually pay them on electronics, and possibly on large appliances, though you can try asking a customer service rep to waive it, Pavini says.

What if a gift was bought online? See if you can take it to a chain’s brick-and-mortar store. But Pavini says it’s likely you’ll have to return it to the online store, and pay shipping.

How long do I have? While large chains may have return periods of 30 days or more on most items, some deadlines are shorter. For online purchases, check if the return period starts when the gift was mailed to you or when it was ordered. “You might get a gift on Christmas and think, ‘It has a 14-day return policy, so I’m good,’ “ Pavini says. “But the person bought it a week earlier. So you really only have seven days.”

Are return policies set in stone? Policies at department stores may be more flexible than at small independents, Pavini says. The advantage of smaller stores is you can talk to a worker empowered to right your situation, if needed. She says you can try to push back if a store insists on credit instead of cash, but just be respectful of the business and its staff.

“When retail was down, they had to adjust their policies, so they weren’t returning the money as freely as before. The economy has forced every business to re-evaluate policies that affect their cash flow.”

Two last Pavini-isms: Make sure your kids don’t open the package on that new video game, then decide they don’t like it. Once opened, the chance of returning it is slim at most stores. And don’t be shocked if asked to show ID. To discourage fraud, some stores will track and limit how many returns customers may make.

– By Lauren Davidson, Atlanta Bargain Hunter

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[...] Bargain Hunter has posted tips from an expert on how to make gift returns a smooth process. It covers everything from what you need to return an item to restocking fees and online returns. We [...]

[...] the price has dropped since the item was purchased), you might only have 14 days. You can also read these tips from Jeanette Pavini, a consumer finance expert, on how to go through the returns process smoothly. [...]