Top tips for holiday gift returns and exchanges

Published 6:36 pm Saturday, December 19, 2015

While the weeks around the holidays are known as the Season of Giving, they also involve plenty of returns and exchanges. But last year, a Consumer Reports poll showed that about a quarter of Americans who attempted to return an item to a retailer didn’t get their money back. By planning ahead and following our tips, you can make sure that gift returns and exchanges go smoothly for you and your loved ones this year.

Read return policies carefully. Not all merchants accept returns and exchanges. Some online retailers won’t let you return items to their local stores, while others charge restocking fees or won’t take returned items that have already been opened. Many online retailers require you to pay for shipping if you want to returns or exchanges. If you’ve picked out a gift for a loved one, go over the return policy before you pay.

Keep track of receipts. Some stores refuse to accept returns without receipts, while others have more flexible policies. If you’re purchasing a gift for someone else, remember to ask the vendor for a gift receipt to include in the package. Always store receipts in a safe place to use in case you need to make a return or exchange.

Don’t wait to make returns. Many store policies include time limits for returns and exchanges. Check your receipt or call the merchant to find out how long you have to return your item.

Ask about restocking fees. Items like furniture and electronics often come with restocking fees, which can be deducted from your refund, exchange value, or store credit upon return. Know the merchant’s policy on restocking fees before you head to the customer service counter.

If a company you bought gifts from goes out of business, remember that you may be able to dispute the charges if you paid by credit card. If you paid for gifts by check or cash and the business has filed for bankruptcy, you can try to get what you’re owed by filing a claim with the bankruptcy court.

What about gift cards? Go over all the terms and conditions associated with your gift card carefully, and look for the expiration date. Make sure the card’s security code has not been scratched off, because thieves can use the numbers to steal the card’s value after activation. Ask the person who gave you the card for the original purchase receipt and store it in a secure place. If the store or restaurant goes out of business, let the person who gave you the gift card know about it. They may be able to dispute the charge if they paid for the gift card with a credit card. If you have a problem with a gift card, file a complaint with our Consumer Protection Division toll-free within North Carolina at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or contact the Federal Trade Commission.

I hope these tips will help you and your family stay safe and happy during the holidays and into the New Year.

Roy Cooper is the Attorney General for the state of North Carolina.