The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

December 30, 2010
On Your Guard: Returning holiday gifts can offer new surprises - here are some tips

It's that time of year: gift returns. All those unwanted ties and toasters need to go back to the store to get what you really want.

Plan ahead, advises the Better Business Bureau, which always hears from consumers who are surprised by unexpected fees or terms.

"Every store has a different wrinkle, so pay attention to the stated return policies and what's printed on the receipt," said Gary Almond, president of the Northeast California BBB chapter in West Sacramento. For instance, he said, some stores have 14-day return policies; some are 30 days. Some charge a restocking fee, especially for electronics. Some give only store credit. Some sales are final, which should be stated clearly on your receipt or posted prominently at the cash register.

Here are the BBB's return tips:

• Monitor the "return clock." Some retailers only allow returns within a certain time frame, which usually begins when the item was purchased, not when it was given.

• Understand return policies for "sale" or "clearance" merchandise, which may be more restrictive than those for merchandise sold at full price.

• Don't remove electronics from their boxes because the original packaging may be required for a return.

• Check online terms. The original shipping may have been free, but you may have to pay for returns. Some online stores allow merchandise returns to a regular store instead of an online merchant.

- Claudia Buck

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