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8 ways to reduce return hassles

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3. Use credit cards to protect purchases
"I don't want to promote the use of credit cards unwisely, but they do offer a tremendous amount of protection," says Feinberg. 

Gross agrees. "Credit card (companies) charge fees, so it is perfectly fair to expect service," he says. "If you dispute a sale, the credit card issuer will hold the money (until the dispute is resolved). In this way, they can help you make the retailer perform."

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Another benefit of credit cards is that they offer a paper trail. "If you lose your receipt, you can call your credit card company and ask them to send you a statement," says Patricia Pao, founder of The Pao Principle, a retail consulting firm in New York. In addition, several credit card companies post purchases online nearly as a soon as the purchase is made, so a paper trail can be just a mouse click away.

4. Treat receipts like cash
Even if you purchase with a credit card, it is still important to keep your store receipt. "My guess is that 80 percent (of return problems) are because the consumer does not provide the receipt," says Feinberg.

It's easy to lose track of those little slips of paper that serve as your proof of purchase, but they document the cost of the product, so they should be treated like money. In fact, if you paid cash for a product and then want to return it, you probably won't receive cash back unless you have the receipt. Even if the merchant accepts your product return without a receipt, you're likely to be offered a store credit instead of currency.

So hold on to your receipts. "To keep from losing them, what I do is tape each receipt to an 8½-by-11 piece of paper and label," says Pao.

5. Ask for exactly what you want
Some customers want a full refund, but others would be happy if they could exchange the product for a different color. "Ask for what you want and give a reason why," says Gross.

Customer service employees are not mind readers, so tell them what it would take to make you happy. For example, instead of saying "there's a button missing on this blouse," say, "I'd like you to take this blouse back because a button is missing." Or if you really don't want to part with the merchandise, say, "I really like this blouse, but I need you to give me extra buttons because one of them is missing."  

 
 
Next: "You are more likely to get somebody to bend the rules ..."
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 RESOURCES
2006 Gift Card Study
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Shop wisely for happy returns
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