Better Business: Receive a gift that’s not quite you? Here are some tips

Better Business BureauDecember 25, 2013 

The presents have been unwrapped, the toys and clothing set aside. Now, the adjustments, returns, refund and exchange processes begin.

Better Business Bureau accredited businesses stand for trust and will make every effort to do the right thing when dealing with exchanges, refunds and returns. As a customer, it's important for you to remember that a store is not obligated to accept items for refund, exchange, or credit unless the item is defective or was misrepresented. These policies are a business owner’s prerogative, not a right. If you have problems, you can file a complaint with the BBB.

Before you take a gift back to a retail store, consider the following:

Familiarize yourself with the store’s policies. Terms, conditions, requirements and restrictions can vary widely, even within a chain. Some may allow a return for no reason at all at any time. Most small business and specialty shops will not issue cash refunds. Return policies are usually prominently displayed at the checkout counter or on sellers’ websites.

Online gift returns may come at a price. Shipping costs for returns to online vendors are usually borne by the person making the exchange. If you buy an item from a retailer’s online catalog, find out whether the gift can be returned directly to the store.

Have proof of purchase and packaging. At the very least, a receipt is usually required to return a gift. Keep all original packaging and accessories. If the gift, such as an electronic gadget, is being returned in a sealed or hard-shell package that has been opened, the store may impose a restocking or “open box” fee of anywhere between 1 percent and 50 percent of its value.

Don’t wait too long. While it is not necessary to run out to the store the day after you receive an unwanted gift, many stores have a limited time frame from the date of purchase during which you may return an item.

You may have to show ID. A driver’s license is the most common type of identification needed for a return or exchange, but other forms of ID may be accepted, along with your name, address and telephone number.

The Cooling-Off Rule. The Federal Trade Commission Cooling-Off Rule allows consumers to return items that cost more than $25 within three days of purchase. However, this applies to sales at a location that is not the seller’s permanent place of business.

Online venues have different policies than retailers. Merchandise broken or damaged in delivery may only be discovered after it's unwrapped. Most shipping companies have clear policies on filing claims. For delivery problems, look at the tracking slip, the company's website and customer service contact numbers.

If consumers experience mail order or credit-card problems, the FTC recommends that they first contact the retailer or the card issuer and attempt to resolve the problem. If that does not work, contact the local Better Business Bureau or local and state consumer protection offices.

For mail order, contact either the U.S. Postal Service or the Direct Marketing Association, an industry-sponsored organization. The association can be reached at 11 West 42nd Street, New York, NY 10036-8096; 212-768-7277.

The FTC also is interested in hearing from consumers. Although the agency does not intervene in individual disputes, information from consumers relating their experiences is vital to the agency’s law enforcement efforts. Consumers may address their complaints to the Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.

Robb Hicken: 947-2115

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