Before "Auld acquaintance be forgot," don't neglect to return unwanted gifts as quickly as possible. While many retailers' return policies are extended for the holidays, the end date can come up before we know it.

These hurry-up exchange/return procedures include Amazon with its Jan. 31 deadline for purchases between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, Walmart, which gives us until Jan. 25 for items with a thirty-day return window, and Best Buy until Jan. 15. Items with a 15-day return window can jump us even faster so gifter and giftee beware.

I love shopping at CVS as the company employs a liberal return program; in fact, CVS even calls it "hassle-free." However, even the "h-f" policy encompasses a 30-day sentence, Christmas or not. On a funny note, though, the company is much more generous when we return CVS-branded products. Store brands have a 100 percent return policy, opened or not. Receipts are required, although if a regular customer whom employees know and you don't make a habit of returning items, the receipt isn't necessarily mandatory.

On the other hand, we're pretty lucky is we received gifts purchased from some of the most generous companies with respect to their return policies. L.L. Bean, Estee Lauder, Neiman Marcus. Nordstrom, or Zappo offer customers up to a full year to decide what to do about that unwanted present. Costco is the star on top of the friendly returns tree so keep this in mind if you decide you don't want its watch or lawn chair.

Just to ensure you're not left holding the bag on an unwanted gift, follow these tips:

You pay for return shipping and – more than likely – restocking fees, particularly with electronics. Best Buy refuses to take back cell phones sold with service plans; Sears won't accept Christmas season items; and go ahead and guzzle that wine bought on Amazon 'cause chances are the company won't accept its return. These are just a few upsets with returning gifts so always carefully check the company's return instructions, before purchase.

Hang on to receipts. If an item you've bought for yourself or a return from your giftee, receipts are often the only path to returns. Be sure to include a gift receipt in the package in case Aunt Mathilda or Uncle Horace needs to return the pajamas the kids gave them. Even L.L. Bean, famous for its return policy, rejects a return without receipt included. Some companies may only exchange the piece for a store gift card and/or for that article's present or lowest sale price (which could be as low as $3.99 rather than the $17.99 you paid).

Be careful when opening your own presents. Once you've ripped off the holiday wrapping, don't just automatically tear into the gift itself. Once we look and see we already have a copy of that CD or the grill Hubby wanted from Santa is not the one he received, then don't unwrap any further. Often, when the packaging itself is tattered or torn, you might not be able to return the gift(s) at all.

Don't squander gift cards. Folks have a tendency to stick the cards in their billfold and forget their existence. I've written n the past about websites that allow gift card exchanges online (such as, and even Walmart now has a gift-card-trade-in program. To obtain maximum value for your cards, turn to Or better yet – enjoy them yourself for their full value!

I could go on and on, but readers get the idea. With this holiday shopping season bursting most expectations' bubble, merchandise may be low in many areas of the country or by store. Don't wait. Grab the unwanted gift and receipt and head on out. If worse comes to worse and we find ourselves out of luck, put the present aside to re-gift to someone who'll appreciate it more.

Here's hoping 2018 brings everyone happiness, health, and consumer-savvy prosperity. Happy New Year!

Contact Ellen Phillips at