Holiday Survival Guide
How to Return or Exchange Bad Gifts
Holiday Survival Guide
How to Return
Don’t feel guilty.
An unwanted gift is a wasted gift.
Gift giving can be tricky. It's really more of an art than a science. And sometimes, whether you're giving or receiving, a gift just doesn't work out the way you'd like it to. When that happens, the recipient is faced with a choice: Keep it (and don't use) or return it (and hopefully salvage the gift-giver's generosity).
If you ask us, no one should keep something they aren't going to use. And here's the other thing: You're not alone. In 2020, the National Retail Foundation estimated that around $428 billion worth of merchandise was returned to retailers—accounting for more than 10% of total sales. And during the holiday season, an estimated two-thirds of consumers make a return. Thankfully, in an age of online shopping, returns are easier than ever. Before the annual returning of the gifts begins, we're providing you with a plan for the smoothest exchanges of the season.
You don't necessarily have to tell the person who gave it to you that you want to return it. That's up to you because ultimately, it's your decision how to handle an unwanted gift. "Once a gift is given, it is owned by the recipient and it is up to the recipient what they want to do with it," says etiquette expert Jodi RR Smith of Mannersmith. But first things first: be honest with yourself about whether or not you'll use this thing. If you know you won't or that this just isn't what you wanted, then you're better off returning/exchanging it.
You don't have to rush out before New Year's. You probably have more time than you think. In most cases, retailers relax their standard "30 days after the time of purchase" policy to accommodate post-holiday returns. But, if you're looking to exchange for a different size or color, the sooner you do it, the better your chances of finding what you're looking for.
Unless you're returning a defective product, you want to make sure you're returning an item in the best condition possible so it could be resold. If you don't pack your item with all the tags and original packaging, it will likely just get thrown out. Remember that you need to adhere to a store's policy. And they're all a bit different. A gift receipt makes a return much easier and more likely that you'll get the most back in terms of cash or store credit. Here's what to know from some of the most popular retailers:
Amazon is extending its typical return window and allowing all items purchased between October 1 and December 31 to be returned until January 31, 2022. All you need is the 17-digit order number—if you don't have it, you'll have to contact Amazon for help processing the return. Then you log in to your Amazon account to start a gift return and choose a return shipping method (or select your nearest Amazon locker). The return will be authorized, and the authorization will have to be printed and sent with the item. You'll receive the cost of the item as a digital Amazon gift card. Of course, this applies for products from Amazon proper. If the item was purchased from a third-party seller, you (or gift-giver) would likely need to contact the seller for a refund.
Apple will accept returns for items that have been purchased at the Apple Store or from the Apple website. If you received a new Apple product between November 15 and December 25, you have through January 8, 2022 to return or exchange it. For gifts, refunds are issued in the form of a digital Apple gift card. Returns can be done online (and you'll print out a prepaid return label), but exchanges can only be done in a physical Apple Store.
Best Buy is extending its return window for most products during the holidays. Items purchased before January 2 can be returned until January 16. Your best bet is to process a return in-store for a refund in store credit. For gifts returned by mail, you'll get a prepaid return label, but Best Buy sends an email notification to the gift giver and credits the original payment method.
Target takes back new and unopened items if they're returned within 90 days of purchase (which should be acceptable from when your gift was bought). And this year, you'll be able to take advantage of an extended return window on electronics, entertainment products, and other items that typically have a shorter 30-day return window. Make sure to choose "refund by gift card" to avoid having the credit go back to the original payment method.