Better Business Bureau- Minimize gift return distress

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. _Once all of the presents are unwrapped, some of your Christmas gifts may need to go back to the store. The Better Business Bureau has tips to help minimize gift return distress.

Chris Thetford explains.

Knowing store policies and planning ahead can reduce the stress of returning gifts. You`ll help yourself and gift recipients if you find out how a store handles returns before you buy. It`s always better to ask about the policy than to find out you made the wrong assumption.

Remember, stores aren`t legally required to accept items for refund, exchange or credit unless goods were defective or misrepresented. Some stores provide refunds, while others only issue store credits.

A few stores consider all sales to be final. Seasonal stores may have limited hours after the holidays, making it difficult to return unwanted items.

BBB tips can help shoppers avoid post-holiday frustration:

• Ask the store about its return policy. Can a customer obtain a refund, a store credit, or exchange unwanted merchandise? How long is the period when returns are allowed? Some stores have extended return periods for gifts, while others limit returns to a week or less after the item is purchased.
• Ask for a gift receipt and enclose it with the gift. Don`t remove electronics or similar products from their boxes before wrapping. The original packaging may be required for a return. In some cases, such as DVDs or music CDs, the package must remain sealed.
• Don`t assume that regular return policies apply to sale or clearance items. Some merchants consider the sale of such items to be final, so ask before buying. If you are the gift recipient, do not assume you have the right to return or exchange an unwanted gift. Like the shopper, you are bound by the merchant`s return policy. Health regulations, which can prohibit the return of hats and intimate apparel, also may apply.
• Ask about restocking fees. Some merchants charge a restocking or "open box" fee for returns of electronic products or large-ticket items. A restocking fee can be as high as 25 percent of the purchase price.
• Look for a posted return policy when shopping online. If returns are permitted, ask what procedures and time frames need to be followed. Find out whether shipping fees are charged for returning items and whether shipping costs or restocking fees are deducted from the price of returned items.
• Save your receipt. Keep items in their original packaging and leave tags on clothing. If you remove the price or black it out on the tag, try to leave the item number or bar code visible as it will make it easier for a store to process the return.
• Time your returns to avoid hassles. Return lines can be lengthy the day after Christmas, but don`t wait too long to return items. Pick a time when the store is unlikely to be crowded, and be polite when talking to customer service clerks. If you are a regular customer or have a store credit account, mention that as you discuss return options. Merchants are usually willing to accommodate loyal customers.

BBB Scam Tracker is a great place to research and report scams.

For more advice on being a savvy consumer this holiday season or to find BBB Business Profiles of businesses or charities, call 1-888-996-3887 or go online to

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