As anyone who’s received a drugstore cologne gift set well knows, even Santa Claus gets it wrong sometimes.
Friends and relatives? Yes, them, too.
Hence the throng of customers who flock to stores to exchange or return less-than-ideal presents. Retailers generally try to accommodate their wishes or provide store credit. But it’s not always easy.
A recent National Retail Federation survey of 60 merchant loss-prevention executives estimated that fraud related to returned items this holiday season will cost the industry $3.8 billion. That’s one reason many retailers are increasingly asking for identification and restricting how long a customer has to return an item.
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Here are five tips to consider before you head over to the mall or attempt to swap out that unwanted item purchased online.
▪ Keep gifts in good condition: Retailers will resist taking back a purchase that’s not in good condition or in the original packaging.
Whether it’s clothing or consumer electronics, make sure the item is free of wear and that you have all the parts.
“The biggest problem is when you don’t have accessories like a remote control or a battery,” said Mike Abt, co-president of Glenview, Ill.-based Abt Electronics, one of the largest independent retailers of electronics and appliances in the country.
And don’t think a retailer won’t open the box and take an inventory of the parts. Abt notes he’s had customers bring back a box that looks like a recent purchase, but the contents were different.
“One time we found a bottle of Windex and a tomato soup can,” he said.
▪ Don’t stress over a missing receipt: Having a gift receipt handy in case it’s needed for a return is ideal. But don’t worry if you’ve misplaced it. Odds are your ID will do. Nearly 71 percent of retailers now require customers who are returning an item without a receipt to show identification, according to the NRF.
Target requires a receipt for all returns and exchanges, but in most cases, within 90 days, it can verify purchases made using credit or debit cards and other electronic payment methods.
▪ Pay attention to the deadlines for making a return: Be aware of how much time you have. It’s not uncommon for certain items, like cameras and other electronics, to have a limit of 15 days for refunds or exchanges.
That’s partly because some consumers will buy some items, like a GoPro camera or a TV, for a one-time use. Then they will attempt to return it for a refund. The practice is known as “wardrobing,” which alludes to a similar scenario: When someone buys clothing to wear for one night and then returns the item in exchange for a refund.
Check the store’s policy online or the gift receipt for details.
▪ Try selling unwanted gift cards: Got a Starbucks gift card? Not a big coffee drinker?
Several websites will pay for your gift card in cash. There’s a catch, though: You’ll receive less than the face value of the card.
▪ Sometimes, brick-and-mortar is faster: If you received a gift that was purchased online, the return process typically means mailing back the item and waiting for a response, whether it’s to give you credit, cash or a replacement item.
For presents bought online but through a merchant with a brick-and-mortar store nearby, skip the shipping and take the item to the store. Most will accept items that were originally delivered by mail.
Wal-Mart, for example, will let shoppers return items bought on the company website to either its big-box stores or its smaller, neighborhood markets.