More people return gifts than you might think

HARTFORD — You might not like the color, fit or style of a sweater. You may already have the DVD you received as a gift. Sometimes a simple exchange will do the trick however, Connecticut Better Business Bureau says givers and recipients should know retailers’ terms and conditions for exchanges, store credits and refunds.

“December and January are peak periods for gift returns,” said the Connecticut Better Business Bureau’s Howard Schwartz. “Merchandise return policies vary from one retailer to the next, so you can save time and prevent headaches by understanding stores’ terms and conditions before waiting in line at the customer service counter.”

Retailers are not obliged to accept returned items, but they do because they don’t want to alienate existing and potentially new customers. Some items are not eligible for return for health reasons. Other that are usually not accepted for return include downloadable or open software, DVDs and prepaid phone cards.

Some retailers have tightened their return policies, especially if the merchandise does not have an accompanying receipt. Surveys estimate more than one in four gift givers do not enclose the original proof of purchase. You may be asked to show some sort of identification, because nine out of ten retailers report losses due to the return of stolen merchandise.

If you are embarrassed to return a holiday gift, consider the results of a National Retail Federation report that says one out of three recipients returned at least one item during the last holiday season.

Tips to Simplify Gift Returns
Check Returns terms and conditions – By law this information must be posted prominently in stores as well as on sellers’ websites.

You will not always be eligible for a refund – Without a receipt, some stores may allow an exchange or give you an in-store credit rather than cash.

Don’t open it if you don’t want it – This applies most to electronic items and other gifts that are packaged in hard shell plastic cases. You can get hit with a re-stocking fee ranging from a small percentage to as much as 50 percent of an item’s value. These fees are charged because with damaged packaging, the merchant cannot resell it as new. Don’t forget to include manuals, cables or other accessories that were included.

Remember shipping costs – Whether you’re shopping online for someone else or yourself shipping can be an added expense. If you buy an item from a retailer’s online catalogue, find out whether the gift can be returned directly to a local store to avoid having to pay shipping charges.

Another popular option for unwanted gifts is to re-gift them for next year. You may not want an itchy scarf or weird paper weight, but who is to say a friend, colleague or relative wouldn’t enjoy them. If they don’t like them either, they may want re-gift them for someone else.