Phillips: Best advice on returns, swaps

Phillips: Best advice on returns, swaps

December 26th, 2009 by Ellen Phillips in Business

A size 8 sweater instead of the size 12 you normally wear (or vice-versa)?

Another purple and yellow-ducky patterned tie to match the one from last year that you still wouldn't wear to your worse enemy's funeral?

A gift card to Barnes and Noble when you hate to read?

All these holiday gift woes and more might be dancing 'round your head this morning instead of those sugar plums that probably were gift boxed for the Millennium and taste 2,000 years old. Although I've written about how to return items, it's (unfortunately) appropriate this holiday season that the topic be a bit more specific. So with a tip of the elf hat to, start your returns off on the right foot.

* Keep receipts. Hopefully, you've hung on to your own copies, but also included a gift receipt inside the package. No, this isn't tacky; after all, do you really intend to don that puce and mustard-colored blouse from Great-Aunt Sallysue? Perhaps your nephew feels the same about the present you gave him and would love to swap it. Without a receipt, a merchandise credit is likely and, usually, only for the lowest price at which the item was sold within the past month. Worse, with all the returns that occur following major gift-giving times, some merchants may not allow anything back -- refunds, exchanges or store credits.

* Speaking of all those returns, don't delay. Even with the pre-Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and other gift-giving holiday sales, today marks even more frantic discounts as merchants try to end the year on a financially upward swing. Forecasters think today's sales actually will exceed Black Friday's, so worlds of bargain shoppers are probably lining up at the doors and cash registers as you're drinking your morning coffee and reading this column.

In other words, if you wait too long to exchange that ugly sweater, you might find nothing left except other hideous clothing. Too, stores generally accept returns only 30-90 days following purchase; electronics have a much shorter time -- usually only 10-14 days. Even then, you may have to pay a restocking fee, especially if you've opened the box.

A good rule of thumb: If the picture or the description on the box doesn't look like your heart's desire, don't open the package before swapping, etc.

Kiplinger tells us several generous companies offer an extended deadline, but contact the following to check on their individual expiration dates:, Best buy, Costco, Eddie Bauer, Macy's, Target, and Walmart.

* Swap gift cards. As of last year, these handy dandies exceeded the number of traditional gifts and -- for whatever reason -- this holiday season follows the same trend. While I featured gift cards in a previous column, it's still appropriate to follow up in today's session.

If you receive one you simply can't use or don't want, you have a couple of options. Go to to trade or sell your card for someone else's. The cost is $3.99, regardless of the card's face value.

The site pays you 60 percent to 70 percent of your card's cash value if it's from one of the site's "preferred merchants." EBay is another opportunity to receive money, though it's doubtful you'll get the full value the gifter meant to convey.

And, while not a swap, you could always gift the card (depending upon the company) to a charity, such as organizations for the homeless, battered women, and the like.

* Give thanks. When writing a thank you (and giftees always write thank you notes), be sure to express your appreciation for the original gift unless absolutely positive the giftee won't take offense that the present was exchanged.

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at under Local Business. E-mail her at