6 tips to keep in mind when unwrapping gifts

By Anthony GiorgianniConsumer Reports

It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of opening gifts. But while you're pulling back the pretty paper, keep in mind that those items may have to go back to the store. What if there's a defect or missing part? What if the items don't fit? What if you just don't like them?

Whether you're giving or receiving a gift, here are some tips to make those returns easier.

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Be careful opening the package. For returns and exchanges, some stores require you to include all the packaging intact, a problem if the box and packing material is torn to shreds or tossed out. The same goes for tags and labels. If an item came with software disks or other media, print cartridges, or other supplies or accessories, opening those itmes also may make the item ineligible for return. And in some cases, you can't return an item simply if there are any signs that you used it.

Hold off on those warranty cards. Some return policies also require you to give back the warranty registration card. So don't fill out or return the registration card until you're sure you want to keep the item.

Examine the item soon. Don't just put that gift in a drawer or closet until you want to use it. Try on clothing even if it's your size, and verify there aren't any defects. Turn on electronics, appliances and like items and make sure they work. If there's a problem, returning a gift close to the holidays can avoid hassles you might encounter if you wait. Some stores won't accept returns of an item they no longer stock.

For more advice on returning gifts, read our story "5 tips for easy returns of unwanted holiday gifts."

Consider giving the original receipt. Because gift receipts typically don’t show the purchase price, a retailer might give your gift recipient less than the amount you paid; we've seen that happen. So consider giving the actual receipt (keeping a copy for yourself) or at least telling your gift recipient the amount you spent, especially if you know that he or she plans to return the item. In most cases we've seen, refunds for gift receipts come in the form of a store credit or retail gift card.

Find out the retailer's return policy. If you’re returning a gift someone gave you, call the retailer or go online to determine the retailer's return policy before heading out or shipping the item back. That way you’ll reduce the chance of being surprised by some requirement you didn't know about. (Don't assume a store's policy hasn't changed). Knowing a retailer's rules for returning items also will empower you if the customer service representative doesn’t know the policy. For example, for no-receipt returns on items costing less than $25, Walmart's policy says you can opt for a cash refund instead of a gift card. But when we tested that at two Walmart stores recently, customer service reps wouldn't give us cash even though the items were below the $25 threshold. And one of the stores didn't return the state sales tax we had paid, even though tax is supposed to be refunded. Remember that a retailer's online return policy may be different than the one in its walk-in stores.

Insist on your rights. If the product is missing parts, defective, or otherwise not what it's supposed to be, don't worry about the store’s return policy. Take it back and demand that the retailer give you what you or the gift-giver paid for, or insist on a refund. It doesn't matter what the retailer's return policy is or that the manufacturer put a notice in the box telling you not to return the item to the store, as we've seen with some electronics. Unless the item was sold using such terms as as-is, the retailer is responsible for getting it right. Let the retailer deal with the manufacturer.

Anthony Giorgianni

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