Thursday, December 26, 2013

Post-Holiday Return Guide

It's the rare person who enjoys returning stuff, whether it's an unwanted gift or a defective piece of merchandise. Here are some tips to make the return process much easier, plus some information that might head off problems and save you time and money:

1. Argh, I can't find my receipt and/or I can't get the receipt and/or I don't want to confess that I really didn't want that lime green and pink striped sweater!
  Don't just assume that you're doomed. Not all stores require a receipt. What you will need to know is where the item was purchased. It may require a Google search to find out what stores carry the brand and model of item you're looking for. Stores often have a designated UPC code, so, for example, an item bought at Joe's Mega Store won't usually come up in the system at Woo Hoo Grocers, even if the model is identical in every way. One store can't accept a return on behalf of another store, especially if it's defective. Manufacturers and distributors track what goes where, and they're unlikely to give one store credit for an item that they knew was shipped to another store if the item can't be resold.

Speaking of UPCs, bring as much of the packaging as possible. Don't throw away those boxes until you're absolutely sure your gift has no defects. I know they're bulky and awkward. Fold them up and put them someplace until the thirty days are up and you're no longer able to do a store return. Keep the boxes longer if the item has a long warranty that requires shipping to fulfill. If you don't have the box or whatever packaging the item came in, be prepared for the possibility that your return will take extra time or may not be able to be processed.

2.  Okay, I took the item to the right place and they accept returns without receipt, but they're giving me the sale price and I know it was purchased at full price. What the heck?
  Unless you can prove it, you're likely stuck getting the most recent sale price when you return an item with no receipt. If you bought the item, sometimes if you provide the date and time that you bought the item, a store with a decent tracking system might be able to pull up an electronic receipt for you. They might not be able to do it on the spot, which means you'll have to take your item home and wait for a call back when they find the information. Prepare to be patient, calm, polite ... they're more likely to help you out than if you play hard ball.
Every customer's business is valuable, but threatening never to return will probably earn a sigh of relief rather than force the clerk to accommodate you. If it seems like the clerk is exhausted, edgy or evasive, remember, they're human. After return number one hundred and eleven they're done with special cases. Nicely ask to speak with a supervisor. They're there to handle special cases and you may be asking the clerk to do something he or she doesn't have the authority to do anyway.

3.  It's been more than thirty days. I hate my life.
  Don't hate your life! Many stores will accept returns after thirty days, especially around the holidays because they know many things were purchased well in advance of the holidays and were intended for a holiday gift. Give it a try. But, be warned. Some stores have exceptions, for example, delicate electronics might not be returnable after a much shorter time frame, like 2 weeks, or they may not even be returnable at all. Kindness, patience, and persistence go a long way toward reaching an accommodation. Yelling or threats tend to make even the most customer-friendly managers dig their heels in. If you're really nice, they might even offer alternatives that you're not aware of. Managers like friendly customers, and want to help them any way they can so those customers feel welcome to come back.

4.  It's defective, never worked right out of the box and I have nothing. Nothing! I'm doomed.
  It's a gift, right? If you really want it, really love it but it doesn't work and you can't return it at the store level, go to the manufacturer. Really. They'll probably make you ship it to them, but not always. I had a problem with a leaky water filter. It started leaking only a couple of weeks after I installed it. I had no receipt, and the store I got it from wouldn't take it back. I called the manufacturer and they sent me a coupon to get a new one for free. They didn't even make me ship them the old one, because they were aware of the defect in that lot.
If you do have to ship ... shipping can be expensive, but it might not be as bad as you think, and it may be worth it. If you think about how much the item is worth to you versus how much you're willing to pay to have it ....  Yes, it stinks that the gift-giver is robbed of the intent of giving a gift because the manufacturer goofed. But the way the manufacturer keeps costs from skyrocketing through fraud and theft, and the way they learn how to develop a better product, is to actually have the defective item in their hands. Long term, that works to your advantage.
You can always call the hotline or email and find out whether or not they'll refund your shipping costs if they find an actual manufacturing defect, or compensate you in some other way, like coupons or special offers.

5. Ugh. It's such a hassle!
  It's tempting, especially with gas prices being what they are, to do a return at the same time that you do a regular shopping trip. Resist temptation! You don't have to make a designated trip, but do consider going without the kids if you can. It's even more boring for them than regular shopping, and there's less for them to see and do during a return.
Try to schedule your return when you have plenty of time, and when you don't have a ton of stuff to pick up and get home in a timely fashion. Avoid peak hours if you can. Lunch, and right around 5pm (when people are getting off work and on their way home) are usually busy. Weekends after 11 am are also typically busy, especially after the holidays.
Also, assume that there's going to be a wait, and that things might not necessarily go smoothly. If you have that expectation, you'll be less likely to develop frustrations that will make the process far less pleasant for you.
If the clerk is dawdling or talking to a coworker, rather than let your blood pressure rise and your temper get the better of you, take a deep breath and resolve to fill out a customer service report card. Getting worked up and angry at the clerk will do more harm to you than to that person. Taking calm, rational actions against poor customer service will do far more good for you and for everyone! And if you get good, fast customer service, consider filling out a report card for that too. Employers are more inclined to give good clerks more hours and more compensation, making it more likely that you'll continue to get good service. With no feedback, employers only know how well their employees are behaving when they're physically present, and employees are usually on their best behavior then. Bear in mind, too, that an employee may not be deliberately malicious, just poorly trained.

6.  It's hopeless. The store won't do anything, the manufacturer won't do anything, and I'm stuck.
  If the item is in good condition, package it, store it someplace safe, and regift it somewhere down the road. Or save it for a garage sale. You can organize a gift swap with your friends in mid-January. If the item doesn't work, look into charities that accept non-working items of otherwise high value that require repair. Sometimes they have volunteers repair them or they sell the parts for a good cause. Look up recycling centers and scrap services, especially for items that have a lot of metal in them. If you approach your unwanted or non-working gift as something you can apply your creativity to, it can cease to be an issue and turn into an opportunity to try something new or have a little fun.

7. This sounds horrible. It's not worth it to even try. Besides, all the store customer service desks are packed this time of year, and the phone lines are always busy and I'll end up on hold forever ....
  Don't talk yourself out of it before you even begin. A little planning, and with your expectations aligned with common store policies, you're far more likely to find that making a return is easier and faster than you anticipated. As for the wait on the phone, learn to love your speaker on your phone and play some solitaire. They'll get to you as soon as possible.

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