smart spending

How to have many happy gift returns

Some stores may ask to see your driver's license or other identification, Marks says. They may be checking to see if the returner has been part of a previous fraud case or has returned merchandise before. "Stores do not like serial returners," he says.

Consumers can also expect retailers to ask more questions, and the queries won't necessarily revolve around why you don't want the gift. Retailers figure that since they have returners at the counter, it is a good time to gather market information. They may request an e-mail address.

Make a timely return

One way to take the stress out of gift returns is to go early, says Marks. The crowds are thinner.

Even better, do some thorough research before you go. Most retailers' gift return policies are posted online. Some have time limits on returned goods, although few are likely to quibble if an item bought in November is exchanged before New Year's.

But remember that timetables can vary within a store. Some products, such as electronics, may have shorter return thresholds than other goods. Similarly, items bought online may have a different gift return policy than those purchased in the store.

Invariably, some consumers won't even try to return some unwanted gifts. For instance, about $5 billion in gift cards go unused every year because people forgot about them or couldn't find anything they wanted, according to Consumer Reports.

That prompts Marks to say consumers should shop wisely for their loved ones. "Know what they want," he says. That way, the remaining 11 days of Christmas won't be spent in exchange lines.

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