Returning your Christmas gifts can be an OK experience or the bah-humbug misery of the season. Here are a few helpful tips. First, call the store to find out when lines might be shortest. Second, ask yourself, “Do I really need to return things at the crack of dawn on Dec. 26?”
Understand how retailers think. You cannot imagine how much retailers want to please you, their customer. It costs about five times as much money to bring in a new shopper as it costs to keep you as a loyal customer. Managers expect store returns and know that one of the top reasons you choose a store is because you like its return policy. So, never allow yourself to feel uncomfortable about returning something.
Have proof of purchase. The top priority is to have a full receipt, a gift receipt or some other proof of purchase. Some stores like Costco track your purchases, and you may not need a receipt. No receipt? Don’t test your Photoshop skills just yet as some stores will give you an exchange or a store credit if they can verify that your item is their merchandise.
Keep the packaging. I learned this lesson the hard way when I bought a 50-inch plasma TV online and tossed the packaging. Weeks later, I watched Jay Leno burst into flames on screen. Neon-red, radioactive flares shot up from his neck and ignited his hair. When I called the TV manufacturer to complain, he said, “No problem. Send the TV back, and we’ll replace it.” With no original packaging, I was horrified to learn that it would cost me hundreds of dollars to safely get the TV shipped back to them. I resolved this problem, but you cannot make me confess how.
Use good manners. The customer-service clerk is harried, wants to quickly process your return, and then move on to the next person. Smile, say please and thank you. If the employee can’t help you, ask graciously for the manager, who CAN make decisions. Say to him, “I am a loyal customer, is this the best you can do for me?” Smile at him, too.
Come prepared. Have your receipts in hand, wear comfortable shoes, and get a shopping cart to lean on. If you have thorny concerns, call the store about them before reaching the customer-service counter. Also, get treated with respect yourself by showing that you have treated your return items with respect; no wrinkled stuff crammed in the shopping bag under potato-chip crumbs or a candy-bar wrapper.
Know individual store policies ahead of time. There are too many stores to list all of the details. Again, get your questions answered early so you don’t wait in line for nothing. Here are some ideas. Your big, chain stores will kiss your feet taking back anything, anytime while the small retailers may not accept any returns at all. Understand that in any given chain of stores, one manager may be more flexible than a manager in another store. If you paid with a check, some stores require a 10-day waiting period while the check clears the bank. Many retailers let you return online purchases to their brick-and-mortar stores. Some stores extend the length of time for returning gifts that are specifically bought for Christmas. Other stores will open early on Dec. 26. Get answers.
Sell unwanted gift cards. Last year I received a gift card for $25 for a store with eclectic merchandise — and nothing that I wanted. I circled inside that store three times trying to find something. Sigh -- if only I had been given cash.
Well, smart entrepreneurs figured this out and will buy your gift cards online for cash. Estimates claim that billions of dollars in gift cards go unredeemed every year, and that the average household has as much as $300 dollars in unused cards. You won’t get full value selling your gift cards online, but who cares? It’s CASH.
Here are three sites that buy gift cards. Cardpool.com claims they are prompt, easy to use, and praised by the media. Abcgiftcards.com is recommended by the Better Business Bureau. And plasticjungle.com is also worth a try. So, Mr. Macho Man out there, if you got a bummer gift card to get a pedicure, sell the card so you can go to the Mexican Gran Mercado in Phoenix to watch the masked wrestlers — and really get your money’s worth.
Tone down complaints in line. It’s the Happy Holidays, remember? We all should avoid loud criticisms about the waiting time, the need for more clerks, or the store policies. There can be a certain camaraderie enjoyed while standing in line. Besides, you want to enjoy the rest of your day, don’t you? If for some reason you are “mad as h--- and not taking it anymore,” choose to return your items when you feel better.
Remember, life is short, so choose to return your items as peacefully as possible, to keep the season’s joy in your heart and to hug your loved ones every day. Merry Christmas!
• Linda Hutchings is a Gilbert resident and a life-long frugal consumer—uh, cheap skate. Please reach her at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Send her your penny-pinching ideas.