Customer Tips For Returning or Exchanging A Purchase

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2012-01-022

Although I skip Black Friday in-store events, I’ve been more courageous about pursuing After Christmas sales. It’s a time when people visit stores en masse to pick up stuff and to buy items at presumably the lowest prices of the year. I don’t feel as harried about shopping post Christmas because the atmosphere after the holidays lacks that sense of urgency that emanates from desperate shoppers who jam the stores in a panic. Many of you are going out there to join the throngs of shoppers who are ready to pick up a bargain or two since lots of things are now discounted. This time, we are in the stores for different reasons.

That said, it’s also around this time that we hear about people taking back purchases and gifts that didn’t make their cut. If you’re intending to go back to the store to do a return or exchange, then make sure you are aware of store policies to avoid surprises. Some things to keep in mind:

Few Things To Watch Out For When Returning Merchandise

1. Some large retailers may be utilizing software applications to keep track of customer behavior. Bigger stores such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Barnes & Noble have return-tracking systems in place that may flag those customers who make multiple returns sans receipts within a short period of time. For instance, returning more than 3 items within 45 days without receipts may not be permissible without a store manager’s approval. Return tracking software can reject returns that are deemed excessive (in frequency and cost), with each merchant possibly using different reasons as triggers for these red flags. So it’s probably not a good idea to try to trade in your entire Christmas haul for cash at the register.

2. Some stores don’t refund gift cards. Trying to get a refund for your gift card may not be so easy. Apparently, a lot of stores simply don’t allow it. Gift cards are quite inflexible and I didn’t realize this until after I shelled out some bucks for an ITunes card for someone whose computer is registered internationally. Apparently ITunes can’t be installed in foreign machines. I’m outta luck. I’ll have to think of new ways to make use of the card. One thing to be wary about as well — there’s this thing called a “dormancy fee”. In some situations, if you don’t use your gift card within a certain period of time (say 2 years), then you may get charged a monthly dormancy or inactivity fee (e.g. $2 a month). This will effectively reduce the value of your gift card. Make sure to read the print on the card that tells you about its expiration date as well as any additional fees you can be on the hook for! The Credit CARD Act of 2009 has stepped in to regulate these types of practices within the credit card and gift card industries.

3. Know about the store’s restrictions on returns or exchanges. Watch out for return deadlines and a strict return/exchange policy at some stores. There may be retailers that will completely refuse a return without a receipt. Damaged goods (even the kind of damage that may appear imperceptible), as well as those items that appear “gently used” or those that are taken out of their packaging may not be eligible for returns or credits. It would be best to check with a clerk or store manager before you go off and make bulk purchases with the intention of returning items later. I especially make it a point to ask about a store’s policies before I buy a big ticket item — you can never be too sure about a purchase! But if you’re having trouble with getting a refund from a vendor, all may not be lost. Perhaps your credit card can help you out.

Tip: Review your credit card’s fine print. You may find out that your card supports a return guarantee. It can also offer purchase protection insurance, as well as warranty and price protection policies. These are some of the reasons I prefer using a credit card rather than cash. For more info on these matters, check out our article on how to hike your savings by using your credit card.

Here are some other ways to alleviate any concerns over unwanted merchandise and items. Try the following tips!

How To Avoid Problems When Doing Returns Or Exchanges

  1. Act fast.
    Why procrastinate? You’ll need to beat that return deadline so that you don’t get questioned.
  2. Open at your own risk.
    There’s such a thing as a restocking fee which you are charged if you tamper with the item’s packaging. It’s around 10% – 15% of an item’s price.
  3. Online shipments and returns will still cost you.
    Even if online stores guarantee returns, you’re still typically responsible for shipment costs that are incurred by return transactions (and subsequent reorders).
  4. Communicate your wishes.
    Make your wishes known among your gift givers to avoid getting stuck with something that just isn’t “you”. That is, sharing your gift wish list with others (and vice versa) may help save time and trouble with returns later on.
  5. Keep your receipts.
    If you care about merchandise returns, watch those receipts like you do your lottery tickets. Like a hawk.
  6. Speak up.
    If you’re at a stand off with a cashier or representative, don’t argue with them: ask for a supervisor, manager or the right person who knows how to deal with your problem. That way, you don’t waste your precious time and encounter any more stress.
  7. Be wary of personalized merchandise.
    Items with a personal touch are unique and thoughtful, particularly those with custom monograms or any other customized attributes, but these would be virtually impossible to return. It’s something to think about if you’re planning to buy or hoping to receive or give away personalized items.
  8. Should you give cash?
    It’s sort of a cop out but you could give away cash as a no hassle gift. Using a service like SmartyPig is as good as buying someone some shares of stock and gifting them some stock certificates. The downsides to giving away cash? As mentioned, it’s an impersonal gift, plus its value can’t be disguised, unlike those fantastic sale items you may chance upon!
Bonus recommendations: patronize stores with liberal return/exchange policies and try to secure gift receipts for the things you buy.

Now that I’m well equipped with this information, I’ll be ready to stake out a few stores and do some smart shopping!

Created December 26, 2006. Updated January 2, 2012. Copyright © 2012 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

krantcents January 2, 2012 at 10:13 am

I never have had a problem returning something because I know my rights. Also, I am very willing to ask for the manager. I usually have the receipt, but not having it never stopped me. The gifts, we receive now have the gift receipt to make it easier too.

Silicon Valley Blogger January 2, 2012 at 10:33 am

Thanks krantcents! I prefer to do my shopping online, but one thing that I find a bear is to figure out how to return an item that does not quite fit the bill for me. I end up procrastinating and forgetting about returning it, and eventually, I just decide to give it away to someone else who would much prefer to use it. When you buy stuff online, you can’t tell or check on an item’s quality either — it’s often a risk (I often rely on reviews or what others have to say to help my confidence).

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