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Everything You Need to Know About Returns and Exchanges

Learn how to make the process of returning not-quite-you gifts painless with these universally true tips for making exchanges.


Get some gifts that were too small? Too big? Too much like something you already have? Too weird? Too ugly? No sweat. Return them! But knowing the store policies on returns can make the process much easier. Here are a few tips to keep in mind whenever you're trading up.
Get and Save the Receipt
That’s just common sense, and making any return or exchange is simpler when you have the receipt. If you don’t have or can’t get the receipt for the item you’re returning, you’ll probably be stuck taking a store credit. In that case, it’s wise to wait until a bit after Christmas to make the return, because many retailers hold big sales right after Christmas, and if you return the item while it’s discounted, you won’t recoup the full value. Wait until early January to trade it in.
Make Sure the Item is in New Condition
For apparel and shoes, make sure the tags are still on the item and that it doesn’t show any signs of wear. If you’ve tried on tops and dresses, check for deodorant smudges under the arms. If you’re returning shoes you’ve worn around the house, brush off any dirt from the soles.
If you’re returning a gadget or electronic device, don’t remove it from the packaging until you’re sure you’re going to keep it. Many retailers charge “restocking fees” of 10 to 15 percent for returned electronics that are out of their packaging. (Apple is a notable exception.) If you do open an electronics package, make sure to return it with everything that came in the original box, including cords, manuals, peripherals, and inserts.
Surprisingly, many beauty products from department stores and specialty retailers like Sephora are totally returnable—just don’t try them on or remove them from packaging and you can swap for a more flattering formula or shade.
Check the Returns Window
Sellers of home goods and electronics often impose a 14 or 30-day window in which to make returns. Apparel returns policies tend to be more generous, with prestigious department stores offering unlimited time to make returns, and even discount retailers offering between 30 and 90 days. Check to see if the item was sold on sale—if it was, there might be a shorter window in which to act.
For the holiday season, many stores extend their windows a bit to accommodate early shoppers, but don’t sit on a return too long—most extended return policies are only good through the first few days of January.
Find Out How to Make the Return
Some online purchases—such as those from, Piperlime, and other web-only retailers, need to be returned via the mail. You’re likely to be on the hook for shipping costs, and make sure to factor in the shipping time if there’s a return window. (Most stores require the item to be at least postmarked by the deadline, even if it’s not actually received.) Major retailers and department stores often provide pre-paid shipping labels that can be downloaded from the purchaser’s account, so if you need to return something by mail, it’s worth asking the giver if they can print you the label.
Online purchases made through brick-and-mortar retailers can sometimes be returned to the physical store.
When in Doubt, Ask for a Manager
If a sales associate swears that your sweater has been worn, or that the soles of those shoes look a little too scuffed, ask for help from a manager. Stores want their customers to be happy, so if you’re insistent about making the return, most stores will make it happen. 

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