Don’t want your gift? Follow these tips for hassle-free returns

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Better Business Bureau

Once the season of giving ends, a new one begins: the season of returns! Needing to return a holiday gift at some point is unavoidable – according to a National Retail Federation (NRF) survey, 38% of gift recipients returned at least one item last holiday season. In fact, the same survey found that 10% of holiday sales are returned, which is 2% higher than the annual return rate.

Although returns are common, return policies vary greatly across stores. Stores aren’t legally required to accept items for refund, exchange or credit unless goods were defective or misrepresented. Some stores provide refunds, while others only issue store credits. A few stores consider all sales to be final, while others do so only for sale or clearance items.

There are also usually time limits for returns. The NRF survey found that 25% of stores change their return policy for the holiday season, meaning time limits and other policies may be different than what you’re used to.

Luckily for consumers, most retailers accept returns in some form or another. However, returns can sometimes be frustrating. This is especially true after the holidays. Post-holiday returns usually mean long lines at the store. Additionally, the NRF survey found that 32% of people rarely or never include receipts with their gifts, making returns potentially more difficult. In 2015, around 1 in 10 complaints filed with Better Business Bureau (BBB) nationally had to do with issues with refunds/exchanges.

Although returning gifts can be stressful, following these tips from your BBB can make it easier:    

Know and understand the policies. Stores are generally not required by law to accept returns unless the item is defective. However, California law does have specifics regarding how a store should disclose their policy to the public. As a consumer, know whether returns are subject to any fees, like restocking fees, and if you’ll receive cash or store credit. There may be different return policies for items bought on sale/clearance, as well as certain items due to health reasons. Return policies may also be different over the holidays, so double-check even if you’re familiar with the retailer. It’s also important to read and know the product’s warranty in case it’s defective.

Keep receipts and packaging. Keep any receipts that came with the gift and bring them with you. When giving gifts, try and include a gift receipt. To make returns easier, don’t remove tags from clothing and don’t remove items from their packaging until you’re sure you want to keep them. Many items, like electronics and toys, are difficult to return once opened.

Timing is important. The day after Christmas is known for frustratingly long return lines at stores. Try to plan your trips for days and times that will be less busy. However, don’t wait too long! Many stores have special holiday return policies and won’t accept items after a certain amount of time has passed. Take extra care to know the time limits for returning your item.

Know how to return gifts bought online. Read the posted return policy to find out if returns are allowed, what reasons are accepted, if there are restocking fees, where to send the item and whether you’ll have to pay for return shipping. You may be able to save shipping costs by returning an item bought online to a store location.

Re-gift, donate or sell if all else fails. Despite your best efforts, some items may just not be returnable. But don’t let the item go to waste! Consider re-gifting it, donating it or selling it.