Winning the Returns Race

5 tips for shoppers returning Christmas gifts.

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Whether you were hoping for a larger television or a different color sweater, this is the day exchange the presents you received for the ones that you hoped to get. The good news: Retailers are making it a little easier to return gifts this year. The bad news: If you don't have the receipt and packaging, you may be stuck with what you've got.

Here are five suggestions from Consumer Reports to make the process a little less painful:

Check store policies ahead of time. Consumer Reports says that policies vary widely, so be sure to know what the rules are before waiting in line at the returns register. Walmart, for example, lets shoppers make returns within 90 days of the purchase, except when it comes to GPS units and digital musical players -- in those cases, you only have 15 days.

Keep the paperwork. Stores aren't being rude when they decline to accept a return without a receipt, they're just being realistic. Retailers need to protect themselves from fraudsters who try to take advantage of lenient returns policies.

If at first you don't succeed, try again. Ask for a manager and make your case -- if you've been a loyal customer, then the store will most likely try to accommodate you. After all, retailers are hurting and need all the customers they can get right now.

Don't over-do it. Some retailers, such as The Sports Authority and The Limited, track the returns shoppers make, so they know if you've made more than a few in the last year. If they think you're abusing the system, then they'll start denying your returns, warns Consumer Reports.

Remember alternatives. If you can't return your present, then try selling it on eBay. Just make sure the gift-giver doesn't see it for sale.

For more tips on making returns, see Playing the Returns Game.