Good Try, Santa: 5 Tips for Returning Gifts

It's almost impossible to get through a Christmas without receiving at least one present that you don't love (or even totally hate). Unless you are a regifter, this triggers the yearly ritual of heading back to the stores after the holidays— stores that are just as crowded as before December 25th — and waiting in line to return or exchange your unwanted gift. This is what you need to know:

Don’t Open Anything

It’s so tempting to pry open that clamshell packaging, but resist the urge until you are absolutely sure you’re going to keep it. The same goes for price tags on clothing. Most stores won’t let you bring back open boxes, damaged items, or items not in their original packaging. In some cases, they might charge you a restocking fee. Before you head out to the store, double check your items to make sure nothing is bad condition, and that all the parts are still in the box. Treat everything with kid gloves until you’re at the return register.

Timing is Everything

The last thing you want to do is spend hours in line on December 26th, waiting with half of humankind to return your unwanted gifts. But you also don’t want to wait too long, and risk bumping up against the dates when it’s too late to bring back the items in question. The first week of January is ideal, when people are back at work and customer service workers aren’t overworked and harried.

Hang Onto Your Receipt

If the giver was nice enough to include a gift receipt in the box, hold onto it like it’s an active toddler in the crowds at Disney World. It’s your “Get out of Present Jail” card and instantly paves the way for an easy transaction that delivers cash. But don’t totally panic if you can’t find the receipt, or never had one. With an I.D. you can almost always exchange the gift for something else, or get the value of the item put on a gift card. If the item went on sale since it was purchased, then you’ll only get the sale amount vs. the amount originally paid.

Review Store Policies

First and foremost, check the store's return policy for details on what you can return, and when the return window closes. Larger stores usually allow 90 days, but many stick to 30. Also some items, like electronics, can only be returned within 15. If the item was bought online, check the receipt or the website — only certain stores will let you bring items back to their brick & mortar location. If you missed the deadline, yet are truly desperate to get rid of that ugly Christmas sweater, try asking for a manager. A sales associate might not have the leeway to ignore store policy, but their manager will. They can also do fancy secret tricks with the cash registers.

Prepare to Exchange

Some retailers will give you cash when you return a gift, mostly when it’s under a certain dollar amount (like $25). Above that amount and you’ll get a gift card or the ability to exchange it for something else in the store. If you know a gift exchange is coming, do your shopping first and have it ready when you get to the register. It saves you from having to wait in line twice.

If all else fails, read our tips and guidelines for regifting:

(Image credits: Ashley Poskin)