How To Be A Return-Friendly Shopper This Holiday Season

You may think you’ve bought the perfect gift for everyone on your list, but at least some of your recipients are likely to disagree: Last holiday season, nearly one in seven adults returned a gift within the first two weeks after Christmas. And many shoppers make it harder for them by leaving out gift receipts or failing to look into retail return policies.

According to a new Consumer Reports poll, only four in ten people typically include a gift receipts with their presents. And, when buying gifts, only about half of adults take the time to investigate the return policies of retailers.

To help make the return process easier on your gift recipients, consider the following when shopping for gifts:

1. Check store return policies before buying a gift: It may help to know whether your gift recipient can return something purchased at a store’s website to the store’s nearest location, instead of having to box it up again and ship it off. Big-box stores usually specify on their websites whether you can return something purchased online in a local store.

2. Look for restocking fees: Many retailers impose a restocking fee, usually 15 percent of the product’s cost, but these fees apply mostly to electronics. In general, retailers can be quick to impose restocking fees on returned electronics.

3. Check the returns window: Many big-box stores and other merchants have regular return policies of about 60 to 90 days, but usually have shorter periods for electronics, software, CDs and DVDs. Using a certain credit card can also potentially extend the return window as well. During the holidays, retailers sometimes extend deadlines.

4. Know what can and can’t be returned: Opened software–including video games, audio CDs and movies–usually are not returnable, though your gift recipient should be able to exchange it if your electronics gift happened to be defective.

5. Last but definitely not least, get a gift receipt: Many merchants used to offer at least store credit to shoppers without one. Nowadays, more turn those people away. But Walmart shoppers be warned: There have been numerous reports of people with gift receipts who, in spite of company policy, do not get the full value of their refund/exchange because the product later went on sale.


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  1. smartmuffin says:

    I avoid this by only purchasing cheap gifts that aren’t even worth returning.

  2. Dr. Ned - This underwear is Sofa King Comfortable! says:

    For horrid clothes, like Jim Gaffigan says: I’ll just throw it out, don’t give me a chore for Christmas.

  3. Coffee says:

    There’s always some awkwardness when a person tries to return an unopened re-gifted wedding present. When they do that, I go on the offensive and guilt trip them about trying to return what I gave them. It usually results in no communication for at least a year, which means that I don’t have to worry about next Christmas either. Win/win.

  4. pop top says:

    6. If the company won’t take the item back, throw a tantrum. Be an empowered shopper by throwing a fit worthy of a three year-old child that won’t leave the store without a toy. Call the service workers rude names, insult their heritage/national origin, threaten to call the corporate office, say things like “Don’t you know who I am?” and “Do you know how much money I spend here?” very loudly, stomp your feet, make angry faces, and most importantly – do not back down for any reason. You are entitled to return that sweater you stretched out and spilled gravy all over, or the remote that you broke when you threw it at the TV because the Piggers didn’t go all the way this year. Do not let something like a return policy keep you from your triumph.

    • tsukiotoshi says:

      Hah, we had someone come in the store I worked at a few days ago and do that. She was trying to return a headset that was broken,but she didn’t have a receipt since it was a gift. Without the receipt we had no proof it was purchased at our store and so I wasn’t allowed to take it back. This resulted in yelling and the calling of my manager, who said the same thing. He suggested she ask the gift giver for the receipt and she said “Well it was a gift! I’m not going to be rude and ask for the receipt!” To which I posited that her parents would probably want to make sure they in fact got a functioning product, since the woman claimed it was broken when they opened the package. This suggestion was not taken well. What can you do?

    • Coffee says:

      Oh, I agree with this so much. Customers generally don’t like confrontation, and the louder and more prolonged a confrontation is, the more likely they are to leave a store altogether. If you’re sufficiently horrible, they may begin to associate the store with you and not want to go back. Managers are acutely aware of this, and if you’re shitty enough, they will give you refunds on items they don’t even carry just to get you out of the store. Additionally, I would like to recommend that you tell them that it’s your birthday so that your breakdown makes them look even worse.

      A final tip – never go in the back with them…if they mention it and move toward you in any way, scream rape and then run out of the store.

      • pop top says:

        I thought you were supposed to scream fire since no one cares about rape?

        (SOCIETY BURN!)

        • Coffee says:

          There are laws against shouting fire in a crowded building. If you scream “rape,” it’s not as likely to cause a stampede. In fact, people are probably likely to come over and watch, at which point you can slip away and melt in with the crowd.

  5. energynotsaved says:

    Again, if you can’t eat it, drink it, or spend it, don’t give it.

    Or, if you want to look noble, and get the tax deduction, make a donation to charity in the person’s honor. It is nice if you donate to something they might actually support. (Don’t give a gift to ACLU in honor of your rabid TeaPartier Aunt Sue. While it might provide you with great entertainment, she will remember and not remember you in the will!)

    • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

      I’m tired of getting sweets as gifts. I don’t eat sweets very often, and I couldn’t really care less about them most of the time. I don’t want candy or cookies. I will let them sit in the pantry for that once-off moment where a craving might strike me, and if it doesn’t come soon enough they’re going to land in the garbage.

      As much as it might make me sound like a bad person, I am not a fan of “donations in my name” either. That doesn’t make me feel good, it makes YOU feel good, and YOU get the tax deduction. How is that a gift to me?


  6. kimshot says:

    Could we also have a post about how to be a good returner? As someone that works in retail during the holidays, It would be nice if returners realized some of the following:

    Check the gift reciept to make sure it matches the item you’re trying to return. Nothing worse than standing in line only to find that the gift receipt you brought is for a different sweater. Or worse, an entirely different store. That said, we can probably still return it, but you’ll get the current price.

    You’ll get credit for THE PRICE THE GIVER PAID. So if they purchased that coat on the day Gap was doing 50% off, you’ll get credit for that price, not the $198 that it’s at on the day you return.

    No, you can’t return it for cash. If you have a gift receipt, you’ll get store credit. If you have the original receipt, you’ll probably have to choose from store credit, or credit via the method they paid (usually credit card. If it’s cash, then yes, you CAN return for cash).

    You don’t have to bring those things back in the gift box. Throw that away at home. It just means we have piles and piles of returned gift boxes behind the counter.

    Don’t be surprised if you can’t exchange that sweater for your size. Your mom bought it for you two months ago; we no longer carry it.

    For people that have experience with returns/exchanges, these probably seem obvious. But I can’t tell you how many people get huffy with me every year expecting that if they bring in a sweater with no receipt, we’ll give them cash for it.

    • TheKuudere says:

      I second this suggestion.

      And I cannot, absolutely cannot, express how much I agree with the gift box thing. Please, please, please do not bring your stuff back in a gift box. The whole month after Christmas, I’m practically tripping over piles of boxes and gift bags in my little work space. Use a plastic bag (we recycle them at our work) or just bring the present in by itself.

  7. jessjj347 says:

    Does anyone know how / if it’s possible to get gift receipts for online purchases, e.g. something from Amazon? I’ve never noticed a way to get gift receipts for any online retailer…

    • TheMansfieldMauler says:

      Amazon allows you to mark each item in your cart as a gift, which means you get a gift receipt for the item with no price printed on it.

      Whether other retailers do that is probably hit-and-miss, with mostly misses.

      • jessjj347 says:

        Thanks! I thought that the Amazon gift option might just be for a gift message. Does the purchaser also receive a receipt to keep?

        • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

          You do in your email, and you can print an invoice from your account history as well. I’ve done this many times (usually for tax-deductable items.)

  8. asphaltzeppo says:

    If you lose the receipt, it does you no good. My family staples the receipt to the box or bag, so that it can’t get lost.

  9. tooluser says:

    Please publish the “How To Be A Return-Friendly Store” article next.