By: Emily Shartin, Globe Correspondent
For: The Boston Globe
Edgar Dworsky would like to update the rules on gift-giving etiquette.
“I think Emily Post should have a new etiquette rule that says every gift-giver should put a gift receipt in the box,” says the Somerville consumer advocate.
Because even though gift-givers mean well, there are still some people who are going to want to bring gifts back to the store this holiday season: A recent Consumer Reports poll shows that 16 percent of consumers plan on returning some of the gifts they will receive.
While many retailers offer a longer period to make returns around the holidays, the process still tends to become more difficult without some kind of receipt. “If you don’t have a receipt, many stores won’t give you your money back,” says consumer affairs specialist Jennifer Litwin. “You have to just hope for the best.”
Toys “R” Us, for example, states that it won’t accept any returns without a receipt. Other stores, such as Sears, may accept the return but only offer a merchandise credit for the lowest price the item has sold for.
But even if you have a receipt, you may still be in for some surprises at the return counter. In recent years, many stores, such as Best Buy and Target, have begun charging “restocking fees” for returns on items such as camcorders and digital cameras.
Those fees — typically around 15 percent — usually only apply to items that have been opened, so Dworsky advises keeping boxes sealed unless you’re certain you’re going to keep the gift. The same goes for items such as CDs, DVDs and software, which many stores won’t accept once they’ve been opened because they can be copied.
Many other stores, including Wal-Mart, have also tightened their return policies in an effort to prevent fraud. According to the National Retail Federation, retailers expect to lose $3.5 billion from return fraud this holiday season, usually through the return of stolen merchandise.
Some stores have begun to track returns, and may limit the number that a person can make within a given period. Target, for instance, will only allow two exchanges per year without a receipt. The Express clothing chain states that it will accept up to five returns within a 90-day period with a receipt, and $300 in returns or exchanges without a receipt.
“Some of these secret policies are being made known,” says Dworsky.
To limit frustration, consumer advocates simply advise familiarizing yourself with the return policy before you head to the store. If you’re outside of the policy’s terms — say you’ve opened the package or missed the 90-day window — it’s still worth politely asking for an accommodation. Just remember that the store may have the upper hand.
“Recognize that you’re asking for something that’s against the rules,” Dworsky says.