It's the day after Christmas and if you're like me, you're probably packing up some of your unwanted holiday gifts and heading out to the mall. But before you decide to take on the traffic and crowds, remember that with holiday sales down this year, retailers are probably not going to be as forgiving as they have been in past when it comes to gift returns. Here are a few helpful tips that will keep you from holding up lines, arguing with sales clerks and raising your blood pressure.
1. Check the store policy. It will likely be on the receipt, gift receipt, or the store's website. If not, give the store a call and ask how they handle returns and exchanges. This way you'll know exactly what you're dealing with before you head out and you won't be disappointed. Also, if the item was purchased online or by mail you might not be able to return it at the store and vice versa - so make sure that you're going to the right place.
2. Bring the receipt. In most cases presenting a receipt ensures that you'll be able to make your return, but some stores have changed their policies to "exchange only" this year and will not be issuing refunds at all. Whether it's a return or exchange you're after, without the receipt, retailers might reject your transaction or credit you the lowest sale price for the item.
3. Gently used items won't make the cut. Make sure that the items you're returning go back to the store in a timely manner, in their original packaging, with all the tags on, and don't look as if they were used or tried. Items that have the appearance of gentle use will be more difficult to return.
4. Beware of restocking fees. Some retailers charge a restocking fee of about 10-15 percent for returned goods. The best way to avoid such a fee is not to open the item if you know you're planning to return it.
5. Habitual returners. Stores are clamping down on customers who make excessive returns and exchanges and will continue to do so during the holiday season. By taking your driver's license number or other personal information when you make a return, they're able to track how many times you've asked for a refund or exchange in a given period of time - if you exceed a store's limit, your return might be denied all together.
The good news is that the post-holiday sales are rumored to be even better than the pre-holiday sales, so there is no shortage of bargains out there. Use your refunds and credits wisely to buy the items that you actually want and need - happy hunting!
Jackie DeAngelis is a writer and producer at CNBC. Previously she worked as a financial analyst at Oaktree Capital Mgmt. Jackie earned her J.D. from Rutgers Law School in 2008 and her B.A. in Asian Studies from Cornell University in 2002