An Insiderís Guide to Gift Returns

December 25, 2010 | Posted By: Angela Lindsey
So you made it through the pre-holiday shopping rush without any (serious) injuries, survived Christmas dinner with your extended family, and received everything you had on your list Ė and some things you didnít. If the thought of staring at the ďartĒ your great-aunt thought would look absolutely perfect in your kitchen makes you want to avoid the room altogether, you have no need for three tea kettles (one is plenty!) or the sweater your mother lovingly purchased from you is three sizes too small, thereís only one thing left to do: return the gifts. However, donít just rush into the store blindly, throwing your items on the counter for someone else to sort out Ė thatís a surefire way to guarantee yourself a hard time. Instead, follow these simple guidelines for an easy and pain-free return experience.

Get a receipt. Tactful gift-givers will include a gift receipt in the box. If they donít, you should ask them if they still have the receipt for it. The first question most stores will ask you when youíre returning an item is if you have the receipt, so this is your ticket in the door.
Know the storeís policies. Obviously at this point, you know what store itís from. Whether you have the receipt or not, find out what they expect from a customer for returns. Some stores absolutely require the receipt. Some stores will only give store credit for refunds over a certain dollar amount. Some stores simply will not accept returns. Read the receipt (the policy is usually printed either on the back or the bottom of the receipt) or visit the storeís website. If anything is unclear or you canít find the return policy anywhere, call the store to see what you can do to make the process easier.

Do your returns during the storeís slow period. If itís convenient for you, many stores have less customers when first opening (unless itís Boxing Day in Canada, but thatís a different story altogether) and shortly after lunch Ė though this may vary. Just donít go in during the evening after-work rush and expect to get quick service Ė you will likely have to wait in line.

Be patient. Youíve got your receipt, youíre within the return policy time frame, and youíre content with getting store credit, so you head over to the store. When you walk through the door, do not expect it to be completely empty. Millions of people receive presents, and millions likely need to return presents Ė the chances that youíre the only one at that particular store are pretty slim. The customer service representative will be doing everything he or she can to speed things up, but most retail systems can only go so fast. Avoid going to the store when youíre in a rush (thereís nothing more frustrating than trying to process a return while the person across the counter is tapping their toes, looking at their watch, and sighing loudly to make you aware that you are causing him or her a great delay).

Be polite. The first person youíll talk to will be a customer service representative, and this will not be his or her first return for the season. Imagine dealing with a hundred angry customers who have not come into the store as prepared as you have, who are blaming you for every bad gift theyíve received. Itís not a pretty sight. Greet the cashier by name, or just say hello and ask how their day is. This will almost always ensure that the cashier will do what they can to help you Ė yelling doesnít get you anywhere.

Understand your options. If it seems there is nothing that can be done for a return Ė perhaps youíre outside the return policy in some way Ė ask if there are any options. Perhaps the store is open to an exchange or store credit instead of an actual refund. Ask politely, however. Yelling, demanding a manager, and throwing a tantrum in the middle of the store doesnít increase the chances of getting your way. It only increases the chances of you looking like an upset toddler. Avoid raising your voice; only ask for a supervisor if absolutely necessary. And if you do need to involve a supervisor, ask politely. Most customer service representatives lack the authority to change or bend a policy, so they are normally doing everything they can for you while still keeping their job.

Thank everyone involved in your transaction. It doesnít matter if you didnít get the cash back you wanted and had to settle for a store credit, or if you had a perfectly flawless return Ė thank them. These people are working hard daily to help customers with their returns and are normally on the receiving end of a lot of frustration. A thank you goes a long way in customer service.
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