BBB Tip: Holiday returns and exchanges

The weeks following the Christmas holiday are often busy for retailers exchanging or refunding holiday gifts. Some reports predict consumers will return $627 billion of holiday purchases this season, and 4 in 10 consumers expect to return or exchange at least one holiday gift.

Contributing to increasing rates of holiday returns and exchanges is a shopping behavior known as ‘bracketing,’ which is when consumers purchase multiple variations of an individual item and intend to return those that fail, do not fit, or are unwanted for any other reason afterward. As consumers interact with businesses, it is important to consider a few key facts regarding product returns or exchanges.

While most retailers offer refund and exchange programs, policies vary significantly from one store to another. It is good practice to double-check policies this holiday season, even if you are familiar with the brand. Return and exchange policies frequently change, and purchases made during the holiday shopping season may fall under a different return policy than a store’s normal one.

The following tips from your Better Business Bureau should help to make your holiday returns run more smoothly.

Get to know store policies. Before you make a purchase, find out if the store has a return policy and, if so, how it works. Understand that many retailers change their policies for the holiday season. If the store allows returns or exchanges, find out if you need to pay a restocking fee. Ask the seller if they offer cash refunds, exchanges, or store credit. Store policies are usually posted at the check-out counter or printed on the back of receipts.

Understand online store return policies. If you are shopping online, search for the seller’s return policy and read it through before clicking “buy.” Find out if they accept returns or exchanges and who pays the shipping when an item is returned. Sometimes, you can save on shipping fees by returning an online purchase to a nearby brick-and-mortar store.

Get the details on a product’s warranty. Most electronics and home appliances come with warranties honored by the manufacturer, not the retailer. Find out how returns and repairs are handled if an item stops working or needs replacement parts. Will the retailer ship the item to the manufacturer for you, or will you need to deal with the manufacturer directly? Knowing the answers will leave you well-prepared for any future issues.

Keep your receipt and packaging. Most stores will only accept returns and exchanges if you present the item with its receipt and original packaging. Always include a gift receipt with items you give and hold on to any gift receipts you receive.

Bring your ID. Many stores ask to see your ID when you return an item to avoid holiday return scams. Sometimes, retailers require you to bring your ID and the original form of payment. If this is the store’s policy where your gift is from, you may need the assistance of the gift giver to obtain a refund or exchange.

Make returns in a timely fashion. Almost all return policies are valid during a specific period. Some stores modify their return period during the holidays, so don’t risk missing your chance to make your return. Take the item back to the store without delay.

For more tips on how to navigate through post-holiday marketplace challenges, visit