Better Business Bytes: BBB’s guide to returning holiday gifts

Photo by Karolina Grabowska from Pexels

By Ben Spradling
For The Cordova Times

Now that the holidays are over, are you staring at a heap of well-intended gifts that just didn’t work out? You’re likely stuck with the scarf your aunt knitted for you, but most presents purchased online can be returned. How easily that happens, though, depends on your approach.

National Returns Day annually falls during the first week of January, inundating businesses and postal services alike with some of the highest return volumes of the year. Understanding return policies is your key to ensuring effective returns after the holiday.

Better Business Bureau has a few tips on how to prepare and what to expect when returning an online purchase.

Keep your gift receipts.

They’re your key to confirming the original price paid for your gift. Without a gift receipt, some retailers may only offer a store credit for the item at its current sale price or even the lowest price it sold for in the past 30 days.

Don’t delay returns.

Take a couple of days to decide whether to keep or exchange the gifts you received. But try not to deliberate for too long. You may end up receiving less for the return or being stuck with the gift altogether. Some retailers have extended their return policies to Jan. 31, while others start their normal return window countdown as early as Dec. 26. Make sure you know the difference.


Verify return eligibility.

Many companies offer a 30-day or 90-day return window on most purchases, but some retailers offer a little more time to account for holiday gifting. However, not all purchases are eligible for return and some departments may have smaller return windows than others. Fast fashion companies focus on trendy clothing with rapid turnarounds, so returns aren’t the most profitable path to take. In the time it takes to ship, process, and refund a return, the clothing sent back will already be last season’s trend.

Review return shipping and restocking fees.

While many large companies offer free return shipping, don’t assume all online retailers offer the same option. Companies with brick-and-mortar locations may only accept online returns in their stores. Even if return shipping is free, there may be restocking fees to consider. The return policy should clearly disclose restocking fees if there are any. Refer to their return policy to check for potential fees and call customer service if there is any doubt.

Watch for third-party retailers.

Online retailers such as Amazon, Target, Walmart, and Best Buy often allow third-party vendors to sell products on their sites. Don’t assume those third-party sellers offer the same policies as the sites hosting their products. A quick check for a vendor’s return policy will save some gift-giving grief.

Return everything that came with your gift.

This includes packaging, paperwork, and anything else that was included in your original shipment. For electronics, make sure the packaging is still intact or many merchants won’t accept the return. And if you’re returning clothing, don’t remove the tags or stickers.

Where can you return your package?

Thanks to Amazon, consumers now expect to be able to return products via home pick-up, in-store drop offs, and lockers. As a result, many companies are adopting similar practices to facilitate the return process and maintain customer satisfaction. This information is normally listed in the return policy if these options are available.

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Ben Spradling writes for Better Business Bureau Great West + Pacific.