wisely for happy returns|
Want to take the pain out of Christmas
returns? Do a little reconnaissance before you shop, and set aside
one envelope for all your holiday receipts.
For retailers, "returns are part of business,"
says Daniel Butler, vice president of merchandising and retail operations for
the National Retail Federation. "Retailers plan for returns, and they expect
it. It's part of doing business."
If you adopt the same attitude, you can shop smart.
Before you even hit the cash register with your gifts, check that
return policy. Can your gift recipients bring the item back? How
much time will they have to return?
"Understand the return policies when you
make your purchase," says Butler. "If it's not posted on the sign, ask."
The more time stores give you, the easier it is to
fit returns into your schedule. Bare minimum: "at least two
weeks after Christmas," says Kristina Matisic, co-author of
"The Shopping Bags: Tips, Tricks and Inside Information to
Make You A Savvy Shopper."
are willing to relax return policies at the holidays. Matisic recently negotiated
for a longer return window. "In my case, they wrote a new date on the gift
receipt," she says.
"The last thing any of us want
to do is go back into the stores right after Christmas," Matisic says. "I
want something in January."
Will returns earn a store credit, a gift card or cash?
Will they earn full value or just what the item is worth at the
after-holiday, mark-down sale price?
That's especially important if you're buying seasonal
merchandise or something on clearance. "Sometimes all sales
are final," says Carol Schroeder, co-owner of Orange Tree Imports
in Madison, Wis., and author of "Specialty Shop Retailing."
And if it's an item that the store will mark down after the holiday,
they may chose to offer only the value of the item at the time it's
"I tend not to buy things on sale when I'm buying
a gift, because it can make it more difficult to return," says
Matisic. "Many sale items are final sales."
If the existing return policy doesn't suit you, negotiate
for what you need, get it in writing on the receipt, and have the
clerk sign it.
Sometimes the policy will vary with the item. Many
times, electronics either can't be returned at all or there might
be a restocking fee charged when you make the return. Giving electronics?
Be extra careful and ask how returns work, says Butler. If you're
not comfortable with the answer, think about a different item or
even a gift card.
may be able to get around restocking fees if the box hasn't been opened, he says.
(So if you receive something you think you might return, keep that in mind.)
"I think all these things are negotiable, and
it never hurts to ask," says Matisic. Electronic goods are
so competitive, pricewise, that one store might be willing to match
a competitor's more flexible return policy, she says. If the store
down the street isn't charging a restocking fee, use that as a bargaining
To make returns easier, or just less embarrassing,
for your friends and family, don't use those upscale retail boxes
for discount store gifts. That strategy can unravel faster than
a cheap sweater if your sweetie needs to return or exchange the
item. Stick with a generic box or one that matches the actual store.