BBB Tips for Holiday Gift Returns

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Rebecca Harpster
Golden Gate 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 almost inevitable – according to National Retail Federation (NRF) data, “nearly two-thirds of holiday shoppers made at least one return” during the 2016 holiday season.

Although returns are common, return policies vary greatly across stores, and not all retailers accept returns. According to the California Attorney General, “when a store clearly displays a limited or no-refund policy… refunds and exchanges are not required by law.” Additionally, an 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.

In 2016, around nine percent of complaints filed with BBB nationwide were due to issues with refunds or exchanges. However, around 13% of the nearly 14,000 nationwide complaints filed with BBB in 2016 against both online and brick-and-mortar retailers were due to issues with refunds and exchanges.

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

  • Know and understand the policies. California law specifies how a store should disclose their return policy to the public. Learn more at 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. Are there time limits for your return? Do items need to be in the original packaging or with tags still attached? Do you need to bring in the original receipt? 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. 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. December 26th 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.
  • Keep return policies in mind when shopping. It’s smart to check out the return policy before buying a gift. According to the NRF, during the 2016 holiday shopping season, “three of four holiday shoppers checked return policies before making a purchase… and 22 percent ultimately backed out of a holiday purchase due to an inconvenient return policy.” If a retailer doesn’t have a transparent return policy, consider shopping somewhere else. BBB Accredited Businesses are committed to BBB’s Standards for Trust, which include “be transparent”, “honor promises”, “tell the truth”, and “advertise honestly”. You can find local BBB Accredited Businesses at Additionally, the NRF survey found that 32% of people rarely or never include receipts with their gifts, making returns potentially more difficult – be thoughtful and include a receipt when gifting!

You can reach your BBB at or (510) 844-2000, or by visiting