While the days leading up to Christmas are often spent frantically shopping for the perfect presents, the weeks following the holiday typically involve stressing over gift returns.
Whether you need to find a sweater in a different size or exchange an appliance for store credit, dealing with holiday returns can be difficult and stressful.
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Amy Brightfield, health and features director at Better Homes & Gardens, joined TODAY in 2021 to share her rundown of the best tips for easy holiday returns.
Here are six ways to make your returns and exchanges go smoothly and as well as some important return deadlines for major retailers.
1. Be prepared
- Check policies
- Check deadlines
Brightfield’s first tip was to look up a store’s return policy before arriving to return or exchange an item.
She also recommended calling customer service beforehand if you don't have access to a gift receipt. A customer service representative may be able to look up the name of the person who sent the gift without a receipt.
If you forget everything else, just remember that the most important item you need to bring to a store is your ID.
2. Check return deadlines
- Amazon: Jan. 31, 2023
- Macy’s: Jan. 31, 2023
- Best Buy: Jan. 14, 2023
- TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Homegoods: Jan. 25, 2023
- Kohl's: Generally 180 Days From Purchase
Although most retailers give customers until the end of January to bring back holiday gifts, Brightfield said it is best to double check the return deadline.
While Amazon allows customers to wait until Jan. 31, Best Buy stops accepting returns after Jan. 14.
Brightfield also said to pay close attention to stores that provide a number of days instead of a cut-off date for returns.
“When you see that number of days you want to calculate that because sometimes it’s 60 days. And then, before you know it, that’s February,” she explained. “So, you want to make sure you calculate the extended time because it might not be as long as you think.”
3. Bring necessary paperwork
- Order Number
- Government ID
Brightfield continued to highlight the importance of bringing a government ID to the store to help a customer service rep search for the purchase.
If you bought the item online and want to return it in person, make sure to bring proof of the email confirming the item’s arrival or purchase.
4. Benefits of in-store returns
- Immediate credit/refund
- No shipping/labels
- Find a replacement
- More flexible
- Curbside convenience
Although some shoppers may prefer to ship their returns or exchanges, Brightfield advised heading to the store to make the transaction in person if possible. It is especially beneficial to talk to a real person, as opposed to an automated message via phone or email, if you do not have any documentation or a gift receipt.
“A little charm goes a long way and also you get the return immediately,” Brightfield explained. She added that another benefit to shopping in person is that you can browse your exchange possibilities.
Brightfield also suggested that shoppers who do not feel comfortable going into a store during the COVID-19 pandemic take advantage of curbside offerings.
5. Benefits of online returns
- One stop
- Free shipping
- But takes longer
If you prefer making all your returns and exchanges in one stop, then you can always finish your shopping online. Be prepared to pack everything up and bring it to the post office or a curbside pickup location.
However, Brightfield reminded shoppers that online returns will be challenging without a receipt or documentation. So, if you don’t have a receipt, you may have to take that trip to the store.
6. Tips for returning an online purchase in person
Some stores, such as J.Crew and Ann Taylor, allow customers to bring their online purchases to the store. Shoppers can get their refund or exchange right away without dealing with the hassle of shipping.
To those who do not feel comfortable going to the store, Brightfield suggested participating in a gift exchange or donating the present. She said donating is a great idea this time of year, especially if you received coats or sweaters for the holidays.
Brightfield also mentioned messaging the Buy Nothing group on social media. The project, which was created in 2013, helps neighbors share gifts with each other.
There is one other popular option: regifting. “You can regift them, but be careful,” Brightfield said with a laugh. “You don’t want to end up giving back the same gift that someone gave you. Donating them is really a great idea.”
This story first appeared on TODAY.com. More from TODAY:
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Editor's Note: This story was originally published in 2021. It has been updated to reflect current return dates for the stores mentioned above and the date of Brightfield's interview with TODAY.