It's the season for giving, but what happens if the gift needs to be returned or exchanged?
After the holidays, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) typically receives hundreds of complaints from consumers because they are unable to return a gift.
"Unless the seller has a specific return and exchange policy or the merchandise is defective or misrepresented, all sales are final in Michigan," said Patrick Bennett, BBB director of community relations.
When it comes to returning gifts this holiday season, BBB offers the following:
- Know the seller's return policy - Be sure to find out about a store's return policies. Keep in mind that returning or exchanging items is a privilege, not a right. Generally speaking, state and federal laws do not require that retailers provide returns or exchanges. A business is not obligated to accept items for refund, exchange, or credit except in cases where the item is defective or misrepresented. In some cases, defective products must be returned to the manufacturer rather than the retailer based upon the product's warranty. So make an effort to understand the terms and conditions of warranties.
- Do not assume the return policy applies to sales or clearance items. Some merchants consider sales items to be final. 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.
- The merchandise was defective. Now what? Regardless of a store's policy, if the goods you have purchased were misrepresented or are defective, you have every reason to expect the store to provide a suitable substitute, refund or make proper repairs. The laws in all states require a store to make good in such cases. Keep in mind that health regulations may forbid returns of such items as hats, bathing suits or intimate apparel.
- Check if there are restocking fees. If you custom order a product, many stores charge a restocking fee for the return of such a product. It is a good idea to keep the packaging an item was wrapped in just in case it is required for return by the store to the manufacturer. Or if you know you are going to return it, don't open the package at all. Many retailers have restocking fees for high-priced merchandise such as electronics and furniture.
- You want to return an item and get your money back. A customer's money may be returned under a refund policy. Stores that offer refunds as a policy do so voluntarily and, in most cases, are not compelled by state or federal law to do so. These policies usually require that products be returned to a store within a specific period of time and in original purchase condition. In almost every case, a sales slip or some other evidence that the item was actually purchased at a particular store is also required. If a customer does not have evidence of purchase, he or she may not receive a refund or may not receive the full amount of the purchase price. In some stores, all sales are final.
- Understand exchanges or credits. In a product exchange, an item may be returned and another item of equal value may be received in its place. This privilege is usually extended when the buyer has made a reasonable mistake; for example, in the size or color of the product purchased. In other instances, customers may receive a credit slip after returning an item. This store credit allows the consumer to purchase any other item at that store which has the same monetary value as the item he or she has returned.
- What to do if the product has a separate written warranty. Some products have warranties that spell out the manufacturer's liability if the product is defective. Reading a product's warranty before returning an item to a store from which it was purchased is highly recommended. In some cases, warranties exempt stores from product liability and require consumers to mail the product to a manufacturer or other business in order to receive monetary refunds, credit, or product replacement.
-If the purchase is made under a written contract, normal return privileges may be affected. Written contracts sometimes have special provisions for the return of goods. A contract usually provides its own conditions for return of the goods and cancellation of an agreement. Always read and understand a contract before you sign it; never sign a blank contract and always keep a copy of the contract.
- Don't delay. If a store has a return policy, there may be time limits for returns.
- Always keep receipts and original packaging.
The Better Business Bureau is a non-profit organization with the purpose of assisting in the protection of consumers and businesses from fraud and unethical business practices in the local marketplace.
BBB of Eastern Michigan provides its services free to the public. Its service territory stretches across the state from Ann Arbor through metropolitan Detroit, Lansing, Flint, upward to Alpena, and the entire Upper Peninsula.