Tuesday Tips: Making Returns

I recently wrote about the hunt for The Perfect Gift. We all want to give it and get it, but that doesn't always happen. So we sometimes have to schlepp back to the store to make the dreaded return. Stores say they have customer-friendly return policies. Even still, we have anxiety about returns.

Stores are adjusting their return policies this holiday season as a way to provide good customer service in a down economy, reports the National Retail Federation. The organization surveyed 82 loss prevention executives and more than half said their companies' return policies would be more lenient. The names of the companies were not revealed but in my informal survey of about a dozen stores, only Sears said it would extend its return policy to 120 days for items purchased between Nov. 16 and Dec. 23. You'll have 90 days to return electronics, software or mattresses. This is nothing new for the store, however. Sears has been giving these holiday extensions for several years, said a spokeswoman.

Here are a few tips for making returns a happier experience:

Tip #1: Carefully unwrap, don't destroy. The packaging of the gift that is. This should be repeated to children with every gift they open. If the gift giver isn't in front of you to hand you the gift receipt, it may be somewhere within the box and can easily end up in the trash. A gift return will go a lot smoother if you have a receipt.

Tip #2: Run, don't walk to the store if you do plan to return, even if you have a receipt. Stores have time limits for making returns and the deadline will creep up on you sooner than you think. Be especially mindful of Amazon.com's return policy: You have 30 days within delivery to return an item. So you'll have to factor in time for the package to make its way through snail mail back to the company.

Tip #3: Look around the store before making a beeline to the returns desk. You never know if something else will grab your attention. That gift could actually turn into something you really want or need.

Tip #4: Go straight to customer service to make a return. Most of the big stores like Target and Walmart will only make returns at their customer service desks so don't waste time waiting in line for a cashier.

Tip #5: Don't assume that all stores have companywide return policies. Many retailers give their individual stores discretion over returns, especially those that come in without receipts. Nordstrom, which is known in the industry for its excellent customer service, doesn't even have a formal return policy. Every return is handled on a case by case basis, said a spokeswoman. So if you're not happy with the way your return is being handled, ask for a manager.

Tip #6: A receipt-less gift return will likely result in a store credit in the amount of the item's worth at that point in time. If you're certain feelings won't get hurt, ask the gift giver for a receipt. 'Tis better to receive a gift that you really can use rather than a store credit for $2.36.

What have you learned from returning gifts? In your experience, which stores have the best return policies and which have the worst? Do you ever tell the gift giver that you returned their gift? (I say don't.)

By Tania Anderson |  December 23, 2008; 12:00 AM ET Holidays and Special Occasions , Tuesday Tips
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

From a retailer: (I have sold shoes, clothes, books, food, cookware, furniture.)

Most retail salespeople make about $7.00-8.00 an hour. Please treat them with respect and everyone will be much happier. That means no shouting, no cursing, no you-are-my-slave attitudes. And, have a receipt if at all possible!!

In general, would people please start putting things back where you found them. It frees the salespeoples' time to actually help you, instead of clean up after you!

Posted by: charlesmurphy85 | December 26, 2008 3:42 AM

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