It might jar you to read about returning gifts before Hanukkah and Christmas. But if you're giving presents, pay attention to store-return policies as you shop.
By playing it smart, you can give the gift-recipient two things: the intended present, and the gift of little-to-no hassle at the return counter.
When it comes to making returns, today's good news is that the customer-service battle among retailers is producing more lenient return policies. Gone, say retailers, are the horrendous haggling days where customers met brick walls when trying to get money back or store credit. Because most retailers want return customers, they're making returns easier.
Still, there are things you can do to minimize the post-holidays-returns pain of the person who receives your gift. (Yes, it's too bad he or she will have to return it, but judging from the volume of returns stores face after the holidays, it's a common occurrence.)
* The best way to avoid tales of woe is to keep the sales slip. Don't be shy about offering it up if the gift recipient indicates he or she might make a return. It probably doesn't even hurt -- as you give the gift -- to say you have the receipt. Some items such as clothing often are prime candidates for returns.
"Keep the box, keep everything," said Peter Glen, a New York retail consultant and author of a book on customer service. The more a store is given to process a receipt, the easier it should be -- theoretically.
* Leave tags on the items; just snip off the price. That way, if the recipient doesn't have a receipt, the store can check computer records or use other means to determine the price.
Many stores attempt to model themselves after Nordstrom, which handles returns on an "individual basis" if there is no receipt, spokeswoman Linda Luna-Franks said. (A favorite story among retail consultants is how the Seattle-based department store once even took back snow tires -- which it does not sell. The story is slightly skewed -- the tires were returned to an Alaska store that did carry them, according to a Nordstrom official.)
But plenty of stores will only give store credit or merchandise vouchers -- which are used like gift certificates -- if there is no receipt.
Time becomes a factor, too; without a receipt, a clerk typically must look up an item to find a price, which sometimes can become a long drawn-out affair, especially if the item is no longer in stock. Not always pleasant for someone you tried to please.
A common problem with returns unaccompanied by receipts is getting the original price. Without a receipt, a customer typically will receive a refund for the item's current selling price. So if the item has been marked down as part of an after-Christmas sale, that may be the refund. Some retailers, however, say they will take a customer's word that full price was paid.
* Another problem can be getting a refund for a gift that was charged. Store policies are usually written so that a return is refunded in the manner in which it was paid. But the recipient won't want the refund amount credited to the gift-giver's account. Again, presenting a receipt solves the problem at most stores.
Some retailers, however, stick rigidly to the like-form of payment/refund policy. This is where the "individual-basis" method of handling a return steps in. Unfortunately, the recipient has to be assertive.
* Don't assume anything.
Always ask return policies before you buy.
Things to watch out for, retail experts say, include stores that accept returns only from the store where they were purchased; stores that do not permit returns of certain items, such as fine jewelry; and stores that have limited-time periods of returns. Most of those retailers, however, extend their return-time during the holiday period.