Mario Avalos pushed his sleepy younger brother Dylan Avalos in a shopping cart Friday at JC Penney’s at Cielo Vista Mall. Sister Nereida Avalos is at
Mario Avalos pushed his sleepy younger brother Dylan Avalos in a shopping cart Friday at JC Penney's at Cielo Vista Mall. Sister Nereida Avalos is at Mario's right. (Times file photo)

It happens every Dec. 26 -- the dreaded post-holiday returns madness.

No matter how carefully people shop for the perfect gift, occasionally the item is the wrong size or an unflattering color, or it simply doesn't meet the recipient's desires or needs.

To minimize the hassle of returns, the Better Business Bureau advises shoppers to ask about retailers' return policies before making a purchase. Retain receipts until you're certain the gift is right.

Some stores provide refunds, while others issue only store credits. A few stores consider all sales to be final. Seasonal stores may have limited hours after the holidays.

Remember: Stores aren't legally required to accept items for refund, exchange or credit unless the goods were defective or misrepresented.

The BBB reminds shoppers to know their return rights before making a purchase. It's always better to ask than to assume. The following tips can help shoppers avoid post-holiday frustration:


  • Ask the store about its return policy. Can a customer obtain a refund, a store credit, or exchange unwanted merchandise? How long is the period when returns are allowed? Some stores have extended return periods for gifts, while others limit returns to a week or less after the item is purchased.
  • Ask for a gift receipt and enclose it with the gift. Don't remove electronics or similar products from their boxes before wrapping. The original packaging may be required for a return. In some cases, such as videos or music, the package must remain sealed.
  • Do not assume that regular return policies apply to sale or clearance items. Some merchants consider the sale of such items to be final, so ask before buying. If you are the gift recipient, do not assume you have the right to return or exchange an unwanted present. Like the shopper, you are bound by the merchant's return policy. Health regulations, which can prohibit the return of hats and intimate apparel, also may apply.
  • Ask about restocking fees. Some merchants charge a restocking or "open box" fee for returns of electronic products or large-ticket items. A restocking fee can be as high as 25 percent of the purchase price.
  • Look for a posted return policy when shopping online. If returns are permitted, ask what procedures and time frames need to be followed. Find out whether shipping fees are charged for returning items and whether shipping costs or restocking fees are deducted from the price of returned items.
  • Save your receipt. Keep items in their original packaging and leave tags on clothing. If you remove the price or black it out on the tag, try to leave the item number or bar code visible as it will make it easier for a store to process the return.
  • Time your returns to avoid hassles. Return lines can be long the day after Christmas, but don't wait too long to return items. Pick a time when the store is unlikely to be crowded, and be polite when talking to customer service clerks. If you are a regular customer or have a store credit account, mention that as you discuss return options. Merchants are usually willing to accommodate loyal customers.
  • Following these tips can help make returns easier -- and possibly help you to keep the holiday spirit a little longer.

    Paula Monarez Diaz may be reached at