Many Happy Returns

There is a certain person I know who always returns the gifts that I give her. I won't mention any names here, but hers rhymes with "bomb." (You know who you are.) To help her out, I spoke to several stores in our area to get some good tips on returning those unwanted holiday gifts:

Tip #1: Watch out for limited time periods. Many stores only allow a certain amount of time for you to return an item, even if you have a receipt. The time can range from 90 days at stores like Target to six months at stores like Macy's. "It's best to facilitate that return if it's a gift you're not going to be happy with," says Joshua Thomas, a Target spokesman. Best Buy normally gives only 14 days on some types of products and 30 days on other types. However, the company has extended its return policy to the end of January -- as long as the items were purchased between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24. has the same deal except the item needed to arrive at its destination between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31 for the recipient to have until the end of January to return it. After that, you're out of luck.

Tip #2: You don't have to go right after Christmas to return that hideous sweater or useless kitchen appliance. Hold on to your receipt, put the item in a safe place and take it back just before the return time period ends. You may find something you're more interested in later. If it's too risky to keep an item unharmed in your house for such a long period of time, then go get the gift card or store credit and guard that with your life. Plus, "you might find a few less crowds if you wait," says Sue McMahon, vice president of customer service at Macy's.

Tip #3: If you don't have a receipt, prepare to get cheated. Many stores will give you the lowest amount that the item had sold for during its time in the store. I tried to return a sweater given to my daughter and the store wanted to give me $4 for it. $4? What can you get for $4 these days? A roll of toilet paper? I ended up keeping it.

Tip #4: Returning electronics can be a whole different ballgame. Stores like Best Buy say they don't do exchanges -- you'll get a merchandise credit that you can spend in the store. The store will not take back computer software, movies, music and video games that have been opened unless they came to you damaged or defective. The store also won't take back any gift cards, such as music cards or prepaid photo and ringtone cards.

Tip #5: You will pay shipping fees for gifts you don't like from an online store or a catalog. will only pay shipping if the item was damaged. RedEnvelope, another popular online gift store, also requires the recipient to pay for shipping and to call the site to get a gift return number.

Tip #6: Be prepared to get slapped with "restocking fees" on things like electronics and appliances no matter if they came to you damaged, defective or were the wrong thing altogether. These fees go toward repackaging the item and putting it back on the shelf. At Best Buy, the restocking fee is 15 percent of the value of items like notebook computers, projectors, camcorders, digital cameras, radar detectors, GPS devices and in-car video systems. They charge a 25 percent restocking fee for bigger items like appliances.

Tip #7: If all else fails, regift. Yes, I'm talking about giving the present to someone else. Hey, if it was good enough for "Seinfeld" (the TV show that gave us the term), it's got to be good enough for us.

Are you returning any gifts this year? Do you ever regift? Post a comment and tell me about it. Plus, get the scoop on after-Christmas sales.

By Tania Anderson |  December 27, 2007; 3:00 AM ET Holidays and Special Occasions
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Um, my family's been using the word "regift" for decades. Seinfeld may have popularized the term, but they certainly didn't invent it.

Posted by: J | December 27, 2007 10:11 AM

Another suggestion for unwanted gifts: donate. Value Village, Purple Heart, US Against MS, and similar organizations will be glad to pick up one or more bag's worth of unwanted household items (not furniture) and clothing at your home on pre-scheduled dates. If you itemize and keep good records, you may be able to take a tax deduction for the market value.

Posted by: Susan | December 27, 2007 5:47 PM

Another thought on returning to Amazon: If you got free shipping when the item was sent to you, you'll have to pay for that shipping when you return the item.

Posted by: T | January 10, 2008 4:58 PM

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