Many happy returns

Socks again? As consumers scramble to purchase gifts this holiday season, shoppers also need to keep in mind that nearly 20 percent of Americans plan to return at least one holiday gift, according to a Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll conducted last year.
BY CONSUMER REPORTS Modified: December 14, 2010 at 10:50 am •  Published: December 14, 2010
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Socks again? As consumers scramble to purchase gifts this holiday season, shoppers also need to keep in mind that nearly 20 percent of Americans plan to return at least one holiday gift, according to a Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll conducted last year.

And though most shopping policies are more lenient than they were before the recession, some companies have fought fraud and abuse with stricter policies. Retailers might have different return requirements for items that are bought in their stores, through their website, or by mail order. Consumer Reports recommends that shoppers call or visit the merchant's website for specifics. CR also recommends these tips:

1. Know the time frame. Big retailers usually allow 90 days for returns of most items but might have shorter periods for electronics, software, and CDs and DVDs. Retailers sometimes extend deadlines during the holidays.

2. Get a receipt. Many merchants used to offer at least store credit to shoppers without a receipt, but now some shoppers might be out of luck. If the purchase was made by credit card, debit card or check, some stores will try to find an electronic receipt, but cash customers might be out of luck.

3. Bring a driver's license. Some companies, like Best Buy, require a government-issued ID with a receipt for returns.

4. Be sure before you open the box. Merchants can't resell an item as new after the package has been opened, so they can impose a restocking fee, usually 15 percent of the product's cost. Even a missing instruction manual, cords and cables, or warranty card can give retailers reason to deny the return. Items like computer software, video games, CDs and DVDs aren't generally returnable after the seal has been broken.

5. Know where to go. If the item was purchased online and the merchant has a walk-in store, CR recommends checking the website to see whether the store accepts returns to avoid repacking, a post-office trip, and shipping fees.

MAJOR RETAILERS' POLICIES VARY

Here's the fine print of some heavy-hitter's return policies:

-- Amazon.com. Full refund within 30 days for unopened books, CDs, DVDs, video games and software with packaging.

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