Hints for hassle-free holiday gift returns

December 04, 1991|By Jennifer Lowe | Jennifer Lowe,Orange County Register

It might jar you to read about returning gifts before Thanksgiving. 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 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 price.

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.

Generally, most stores will give cash or credit refunds within seven days of purchase; those that do not are required by state law to post their policies and print them on tags attached to items sold.

But 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 holidays.

A law passed by the Maryland's Consumer Protection Division in 1976, according to Kevin Higgins of the Attorney General's Office, states that a store may adopt "any return policy it wants if it notifies the customer. The rule [regarding the store's policy] must be posted in one of three places. It may be conspicuously posted in the store, it may be posted on the goods, or on the sales receipt."

Higgins added that the refund rule does not apply to damaged or defected goods. Under the Expressed and Implied Warranty Laws, he said, "damaged or defective goods may be returned despite the store's policy."

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