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How to return Gifts

If you approach the refund challenge with a determination not to be denied, you'll likely prevail.

(Almost) anything goes. Shoppers are often sucessful returning goods even when they don't play by the rules. The surest way to avoid disappointment is to have a sales slip. Without proof of purchase, you'll be limited to an even exchange or store credit, in most cases. And if you opt for store credit, you'll receive the lowest price the item sold for, not necessarily the price you paid for it.

The clock is running. Many companies have a stated return period of 7 to 90 days; others give you unlimited time to bring back merchandise. Apparel merchants, department and discount stores, and catalog merchants tend to offer the longest grace periods; electronics and appliance chains, the shortest. However, you needn't feel defeated even after the return clock has run out; persistence and politeness will often get you into overtime.

Getting to yes. Don't assume that being denied a refund by the first store clerk you approach is the final word on the matter. Employees within the same chain--even inside the same store--sometimes provide contradictory information about their return rules. If all else fails, ask for the store manager.

The biggest challenges. Returning appliances and home-electronics gear can be costly. If you so much as open the carton containing certain merchandise, you could be subject to substantial penalties.

"We'll pay you to send it back." Online merchants and mail-order companies tend to have the most liberal policies; they know they must be willing to unconditionally accept returns of items that their customers cannot examine firsthand until they are delivered. Some online and catalog merchants will not only take goods back, no questions asked; they'll even pay the return shipping costs--if you know to ask. When purchasing online, ask whether you can return items to a brick-and-mortar counterpart.

Avoid refund runarounds
Request a gift receipt, if your purchase is to be given as a present. Many department stores, specialty chains, and online merchants offer them. The price is embedded in the bar code, so the recipient need not know what you paid. If the item must be returned, the clerk can scan the label and give the person a full refund.

Don't cut off tags or discard packaging until you're sure you want the item. With certain clothing or fashion items, it could void the return policy; with some electronics goods, it could mean a big restocking penalty.

Ask about specially marked items. Often the regular return policy does not apply to goods labeled "final sale" or "as is."

Be polite. Sales clerks and customer-service people tend to be on the receiving end of a lot of customer wrath, so a smile and some kindness can go a long way toward resolving a dispute.

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