6 Do's and Don'ts of Gift Returns

How to maximize your chances of a hassle-free gift return – even without a receipt.

Woman shops at a local clothing boutique. Sales clerk waits behind the check out counter.
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[Read: 5 Tips for Hassle-Free Gift Returns.]

So you may find yourself getting a $14 store credit for a $120 sweater someone bought you. While clothing often makes the clearance rack, Brenner says prices are marked down on just about everything, from holiday decorations to electronics, to make room for new products.

Do: Know the store's return policies. This is becoming increasingly important as stores become more stingy about product returns (you can't really blame them, since many buyers have abused return policies and some criminals attempt to bring stolen merchandise back to a store in exchange for credit).

True, many stores have extended holiday return periods, giving holiday-dazed consumers more time to return gifts, but they don't all have blanket policies for every item. For instance, at Toys "R" Us, some electronic items purchased beginning Nov. 1 must be returned by Jan. 9 to get a refund or store credit. But for just about everything else bought at the store, you can wait until Jan. 25. At Macy's, you have three days to return furniture, but 60 days to return a mattress. Meanwhile, some retailers charge restocking fees (i.e., 15 percent of the purchase) for returning an item. So unless you know the store pretty well, and especially if the gift is expensive or heavy, you'd be wise to go to the store's website and check its returns guidelines.

ConsumerWorld.org, a public service consumer resource guide, has an updated list of noteworthy store policies, policy changes or unusual return policies (consumerworld.org/pages/returns.htm).

[See: 10 Saving Strategies That Can Backfire.]

Don't: Get discouraged. The return policies, as noted, are mostly in place to prevent abuse. If you have a legitimate gripe – a product simply isn't working the way it should or it's the wrong size – store sales staff and managers tend to do what they can to help you.

"But nothing will happen if you don't ask," Bellinger says. She says she will occasionally hang onto a gift if she thinks the giver would feel let down if he or she learned she returned it, but generally, if it isn't something she likes or will use, Bellinger doesn't hesitate to attempt a return. "Nobody's enjoying the value of the gift if it's sitting unused in your house," she says.