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Holiday Shopping: Know Return Policies

In the excitement of the moment, it can be easy to forget that what you buy now can cause problems later. With all of the deals available, and all of the sales going on, you might find yourself paying for something — and then running into trouble if you change your mind and want your money back.

Before you get too caught up in saving money, do yourself a favor and make sure you understand the return policy at the stores you shop at. From department stores, to online retailers, to companies offering travel services, it helps to understand the return and refund policies, and be aware of general customer service [3] practices.

Know the Conditions of the Return

Your first step is to make sure you understand under what conditions you can get your money back. Do you need a receipt? Perhaps the item needs to be unopened or, in the case of clothing, the tags may need to be attached. Check to find out if you will receive the cash back, or if store credit will be issued. Realize, too, that there are limitations on how long you have. Many stores require you to make returns within 14 to 30 days, although some stores may have policies that allow 60 to 90 days for returns. Find out about the gift receipt policy on items you purchase as gifts for others. In many cases, you can get a gift receipt to give with the present so that the recipient can exchange the item with relative ease.

It is especially important to understand conditions of returns of online purchases. Do you have to pay the shipping cost to return the item? If you bought travel online, can you get a refund if an emergency comes up? How much will it cost to change your hotel reservation or plane ticket? It is vital to understand the requirements before you finalize a purchase.

Stores with the Best Return Policies

Every year, Consumer Reports [4] puts out a list of companies with the most favorable return policies — and those with the worst return policies. While it is impossible to list all of the stores and companies out there, Consumer Reports does a good job of providing you with insight into your best choices, as well as the companies to avoid.

Best Return Policies

The following companies offer policies that are generally considered generous, and easy to use. I can attest to the ease of Amazon’s return policy. I have yet to have a bad customer service experience with the company.

Worst Customer Policies

If you are considering making purchases from these companies, think twice. If something goes wrong, according to Consumer Reports, you might not get the support you want:

As you decide where to get your gifts this Christmas, or book holiday travel, consider your options, and whether or not the company is friendly toward consumers. You might be better off paying a little bit more for the peace of mind that comes with favorable return policies.

(Photo: Manchester Library [6])