5 tips for hassle-free returns

By Mary Ann Albright, Columbian Staff Reporter

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Even Santa occasionally strikes out in the gift-giving department, so many people will need to make a return or exchange after Christmas.

The stores are usually crowded and the lines long on Dec. 26 as people flock to post-holiday sales. However, there are tips that will facilitate hassle-free returns.

Kristin Alexander, spokeswoman for the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, Jessica Curtis, marketing director for Westfield Vancouver mall, and retailers offer information that gift givers and recipients can use to help ease the returns process.

Know the policy

In general, there is no “right of return.” The state does not require merchants to accept returns and issue refunds in most cases, so policies will vary by retailer, Alexander said. Some stores will give refunds, and others will only issue store credit. Some say that all sales are final and will not accept returns or exchanges.

Sometimes online purchases can be returned in stores, but sometimes they must be mailed back. And some stores have separate return policies for sale and clearance items.

It’s important to be timely with returns and exchanges, because there’s often a finite window of time, Alexander said.

Target, for example, will accept returns with receipt within 90 days of purchase and will issue refunds to those customers. If there’s no receipt but the item was paid for by check or debit, credit or gift card, then Target employees can generally look up the transaction, said Nick Winkleblack, executive team leader at the Vancouver Plaza Target.

If there’s no receipt and the transaction cannot be looked up, then all is not lost. Target allows customers to return or exchange $70 worth of merchandise on a rolling 12-month cycle. People must provide their driver’s license to do this. Returns made after 90 days are treated as no-receipt returns.

If customers don’t have a receipt and have exceeded their $70 no-receipt returns allotment for the year, then they can still exchange the item. However, exchanges must be made within the same department — so if you bring back a woman’s sweater, you’d have to exchange it for another women’s winter knit item.

Other stores handle returns differently. Nordstrom, for instance, doesn’t have a set policy.

“We evaluate each situation on a case-by-case basis,” said spokeswoman Kendall Ault. “Really, the ultimate objective is we’re taking care of that customer, and if they’ve purchased something from Nordstrom that doesn’t meet their expectations, doesn’t meet their needs, we’re going to work hard to find the right solution for them.”

Keep receipts

Returns are usually a lot easier with a receipt. Givers should enclose a gift receipt, and recipients should be careful not to lose it, Alexander said.

Curtis also finds it helpful to organize her original receipts. She keeps one envelope per family member, writes his or her name on it, and puts all the receipts for that person’s gifts inside. That way, it’s easy to find a receipt if a gift doesn’t work out, she said.

Save original packaging & price tags

Some merchants require this for returns, Alexander said.

Be prepared to pay a restocking fee

Some merchants charge restocking fees, especially for electronics. Whether this applies to unopened items depends on the retailer. Restocking fees typically range from about 10 to 15 percent of the purchase price, Alexander said.

Pay attention to holiday hours

Most retailers are closed Christmas Day, but many have extended hours on Dec. 26.

Target will be open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. the day after Christmas.

Westfield Vancouver mall will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Dec. 26, though department store hours vary. Nordstrom is open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Macy’s and J.C. Penney are open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sears is open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.