How to Handle Unwanted Gifts

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Nobody wants to deal with unwanted gifts. In fact, no one wants to receive a present that they don’t really want.

But sometimes you end up getting a Christmas, birthday or anniversary gift that just isn’t right. So, what do you do?

I’ve got some tips on how to handle being on the receiving end of a present you want to return or exchange.

At the same time I’ve got advice on how you can avoid giving a gift that ends up unwanted. In other words, steps you can take that, no matter what, the gift recipient will be able to return or exchange what you gave them, if they decide they no longer want it.

Why do people end up with unwanted gifts

The worst is getting a gift that’s not right for you. Then, there’s the struggle to figure out how to return it.

I can still remember back to my sweet 16 party. Someone gave me a sweater.

It was a cute sweater but it was too small. I wanted to go back to the store where it came from and exchange it, but that wasn’t going to be easy to do.

There were a ton of people at that party–so many that I lost count–and this sweater showed up in an unmarked box. It did have a price tag on it but not one that clearly identified in which store it was bought.

It was a pretty big party. And since some people didn’t come with gifts, I couldn’t even use the process of elimination to figure out who gave me this too-small sweater.

So one day I decided to go to the mall where everyone shopped for gifts in my Long Island town. This is long before Amazon or Target were options.

I bought the sweater with me, and literally visited every single clothing store in that mall. By the end of the day I was no better off.

I still had a sweater that I would have loved to have worn, but it was too small and therefore useless and unwanted. I think I ended up donating it to charity, but I will never forget the entire day I spent trying to figure out the origin of that sweater.

Gift receipts solve unwanted gift problems

Which is why when stores introduced the concept of gift receipts, I cried out “Hallelujah.” No longer would I or any other unhappy gift recipient have to struggle to figure out how or where to exchange an unwanted gift.

The gift receipt would tell you everything you needed to know, except for how much the person spent on the gift. This would eliminate unnecessary trips to the store to attempt a return that may not happen and money lost on an item that the recipient doesn’t like or can’t use.

How to return an unwanted gift

Even with a gift receipt, it’s important to understand the nuances of returning a gift. Well, returning or exchanging.

Many stores have different rules. For example, we know that Target has extended its price matching and return policy to 90 days for the holidays.

So, whether you’re shopping for a gift or on the receiving end, consider these tips should you find yourself needing to return or exchange anything.

returns target

Know the retailer’s return policy before you shop for gifts

Most retailers have return policies prominently displayed, especially during the holidays. Gift-givers should read and remember them.

If policies are not clearly displayed, ask a sales associate or a manager to explain them to you. Or, check out this article on popular store return policies.

Holiday returns may be more generous

If you’re looking to make a return after the holiday period, you may have more leniency. For example, here is the Amazon return policy for gifts purchased during the holiday season:

“You may return most new, unopened items sold and fulfilled by Amazon within 30 days of delivery for a full refund. For the 2022 holiday season, most of the items purchased between 11 October and 25 December 2022 can be returned until 31 January 2023.”

Amazon Return Policy Page

Save receipts if you can’t get a gift receipt

Receipts are still the key to hassle-free returns. Some retailers will allow you to come back without a receipt.

However, usually you can only exchange merchandise without a receipt. Or, they may only provide merchandise credit or gift cards for the lowest markdown-price.

Therefore, you’ll never get the full “value” of the item, especially if it was marked down or a Black Friday special. So, always make sure to provide the recipient with a gift receipt to save hassle after the holidays–or really at any time during the year.

Don’t throw away unwanted packaging

I say it’s unwanted packaging, but if there is a chance you’ll have to return the gift, you definitely want to keep it. At the same time if you’re giving a gift that came in a specific box, envelope or whatnot, wrap the gift in it.

That’s because if you don’t provide all original packaging and all parts (including tags) when giving a gift, some retailers won’t accept this as a return. This is especially true with online retailers.

So, if you plan to take back a gift when it is unwrapped, resist the urge to open it or play with it. No one wants to buy someone else’s used merchandise.

Also, items like computer software, video games, CDs and DVDs aren’t generally returnable for another title after the seal has been broken. So keep that in mind.

Finally, even though Amazon says it will take back unopened items only, I’ve found that they’re often very generous with that policy. In fact, I’ve known too many people who abuse Amazon’s return policy.

How to return unwanted items online

Returns are a part of shopping, no matter where you buy. In addition to the other rules of returns, here are a few things to find out before you purchase a gift online.

Know the return process

Who pays for shipping the return–you or the merchant? Some merchants will refund delivery charges for exchanges, but not for returns.

On the other hand, other online shops offer free return shipping on every return. It doesn’t matter if you’re sending something back because you don’t want it or because you are exchanging it for something else.

Two of the most generous retailers with free shipping both are Nordstrom.com and Zappos.com.

Where can you make a return

Does the retailer have a physical store? Can returns or exchanges be made there?

Make sure you have the correct address if you need to mail returns back to the company. Some merchants have off site service centers to handle returns that may be in a different location from where the merchandise is sent.

In addition, some online retailers have partnered with brick-and-mortar stores to handle returns. For example, you can bring returns for Amazon back to a Kohl’s store, as I discovered in the picture here.

amazon returns at kohls

Hold off on submitting rebates

Many times a new gadget will come with a rebate. However, if you think you might want to return it, don’t do the rebate right away. If an item comes with a rebate offer, make sure it works before removing the UPC code to redeem the rebate.

Don’t shop at retailers that charge restocking fees

Restocking fees usually apply to electronics. Frankly, I think they’re a rip off.

Typically fees range from 10 to 15 percent of the purchase price. Some of the items that might be subject to restocking fees include:

  • TVs
  • digital cameras
  • computers
  • tablets
  • Bluetooth headphones

Final thoughts on dealing with unwanted gifts

Getting gifts is great. Returning gifts isn’t. This is especially true if you find yourself in a situation of not having the receipt.

On the other hand, no one wants to deal with a retailer that simply doesn’t want to deal with returns (no fair, I say). So when shopping for gifts, always buy from vendors that offer generous return policies, especially at the holidays.

I hope that every gift you give and get is the one wanted and you don’t have to deal with returns in the coming weeks!

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