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6 tips to keep in mind when unwrapping gifts

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of opening gifts. But while you're pulling back the pretty paper, keep in mind that those items might have to go back to the store. What if there's a defect or missing part? What if the items don't fit? What if you just don't like them?

Whether you're giving or receiving a gift, here are some tips to make those returns easier.

Be careful opening the package. For returns and exchanges, some stores require you to keep all of the packaging intact, a problem if the box and packing material are torn to shreds or tossed out. The same goes for tags and labels. If an item came with software disks or other media, print cartridges, or other supplies or accessories, opening them also might make the item ineligible for return. And in some cases, you can't return an item if there are any signs that you used it.

Hold off on those warranty cards. Some return policies also require you to give back the warranty registration card. So don't fill out or send it in until you're sure you want to keep the item.

Examine the item soon. Don't just put that gift in a drawer or closet until you want to use it. Try on clothing and check that there aren't any defects. Turn on electronics, appliances, and similar items to make sure they work. If there's a problem, returning a gift close to the holidays can help you avoid hassles you might encounter if you wait. Some stores won't accept returns of an item they no longer stock.

For more advice on returns, read our article "5 Tips for Easy Returns of Unwanted Holiday Gifts."

Consider giving the original receipt. Because gift receipts usually don’t show the purchase price, a retailer might give your gift recipient less than the amount you paid; we've seen that happen. So consider giving the actual receipt (and keeping a copy for yourself) or at least telling your gift recipient the amount you spent, especially if you know that he or she plans to return the item. In most cases we've seen, refunds for gift receipts come in the form of a store credit or retail gift card.

Find out the retailer's return policy. If you’re returning a gift someone gave you, call the retailer or go online to determine the retailer's return policy before heading out or shipping the item back. That way you’ll reduce the chance of being surprised by some requirement you didn't know about. (Don't assume that a store's policy hasn't changed). Knowing a retailer's rules for returning items will also empower you if a customer-service representative doesn’t know the policy. For example, for no-receipt returns on items costing less than $25, Walmart's policy says that you can opt for a cash refund instead of a gift card. But when we tested that policy at two Walmart stores recently, customer-service reps wouldn't give us cash even though the items were below the $25 threshold. And one of the stores didn't return the state sales tax we had paid, even though tax is supposed to be refunded. Remember that a retailer's online return policy might be different from the one in its walk-in stores.

Insist on your rights. If the product is missing parts, defective, or otherwise not what it's supposed to be, don't worry about the store’s return policy. Take it back and demand that the retailer give you what you or the gift-giver paid, or insist on a refund. It doesn't matter what the retailer's return policy is or that the manufacturer put a notice in the box telling you not to return the item to the store, as we've seen with some electronics. Unless the item was sold using the term "as is," the retailer is responsible for getting it right. Let it deal with the manufacturer.

Anthony Giorgianni

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