Federal, state laws can help navigate returning gifts

The Better Business Bureau has tips for returning those gifts that fell short of expectations this holiday season.

Federal and state laws can dictate how and when items can be returned. Knowing those laws will help in navigating an in-store or online return and whether it proves to be a satisfactory or frustrating experience.

Federal law provides a “cooling-off rule” that gives buyers three days to cancel a purchase of $25 or more. This rule provides the consumer the right to cancel, for a full refund, until midnight of the third business day after the sale. It applies to items bought wherever the retailer offers sale of consumer items.

In Michigan, once a consumer executes a contract or purchase agreement, there is no right to cancel. Returns and/or refunds depend on the policy chosen by the retailer, not the consumer. Know your rights before you buy.

Some retailers attempt to prevent retail fraud involving the return of used or stolen goods by enacting strict return policies. According to the National Retail Federation, of the $219 billion worth of merchandise that consumers return annually, more than $11 billion of that is fraudulent. Not surprisingly, retailers that give refunds for returns may require identification.

The National Retail Federation reported online sales were expected to increase between 6% and 8%. When trying to return an item to an online retailer, start by:

Researching the merchant

— Look through the merchant’s website to determine whether they accept returns;

— Find out if a receipt or gift receipt is needed;

— Does the merchant give refund or just store credit for returns?

— Are there return fees, such as restocking or shipping and handling?

— Do they accept opened items?

— Do they offer a satisfaction or money back guarantee?

For the gift giver, always…

— Give a gift receipt;

— Leave on the original tags and in the packaging materials;

— Include return information for the gift recipient, such as packaging slips and other documentation;

Having trouble returning an item?

— Make sure you understand the retailer’s return policy in advance;

— Talk to a manager if the clerk has refused the return;

— If paid by credit card, you may be able to dispute the charge and request a “charge back.” Contact your credit card provider for more information.

— If you receive an item that is defective or not as represented and the merchant still refuses a return, you should file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau at bbb.org/detroit. When filing a complaint with the BBB, be sure to include copies of all documentation, including packing slips, online disclosures, receipts, etc.

Returning something to a local retailer? These tips also apply to traditional “brick and mortar” businesses, so go prepared and know the return policies and your rights as a consumer.

Need more information? Contact BBB at 248-223-9400 or go to bbb.org/detroit.


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