Consumer Watch: Tips for returning unwanted gifts

Consumer Watch: Tips for returning unwanted gifts

Start returns out on the right foot

December 30th, 2018 by Ellen Phillips in Business Around the Region

A size eight 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 in the past 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.

Ellen Phillips

Ellen Phillips

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Keep receipts. Hopefully, you've hung on to your own copies, but also the included 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. Stores generally accept returns only thirty-ninety days following purchase; electronics have a much shorter time, usually only ten-fourteen days. Even then, you may have to pay a restocking fee, especially if you've opened the box. (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 exchanging, etc.) Kiplinger tells us several generous companies offer an extended deadline but contact the following (among others) to check on their individual expiration dates:, Best Buy, Costco, Eddie Bauer, Macy's, Target, and Wal-Mart.

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 do have a couple of options. Go to to trade or sell your card for someone else's but be certain to verify card balances when possible. Call the "1-800" number listed on the back of the card or input the card's identification code into a tool on the respective retailer's website. Doing so prior to paying should be a must when buying a gift card from an individual. The site often pays 60-70 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.

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 gifter won't take offense that the present was exchanged.

Have a happy, safe, and prosperous New Year!

Contact Ellen Phillips at