November 12, 2010

The ritual of frantically returning purchases and exchanging unwanted gifts is part and parcel of the post-season shopping rush.  Return treks back to the malls or via the Internet are not always hassle-free endeavors.  However, with a dash of moxie and knowledge of return rules, you can make for a New Year of many Happy Returns.


In most instances, you do not have an automatic right of return, exchange, refund, or store credit for merchandise that you do not want.  As a rule, stores are not legally required to accept an item for return unless the item is defective or was misrepresented.  Some stores even have “no return” and “final sale” policies.  Get in the habit of always saving your receipts, tags, and original packaging to ease and expedite the return process.  If you do not have your original receipt, some stores will accept a credit or debit card statement as proof of purchase.  If you receive or purchase an item that you are sure you will return, do not get curious and greedy by breaking the manufacturing seal, or by opening the packaging.  If you do return an item, do so as soon as possible since many stores impose stringent time limits on making returns.  Many electronic stores charge a “restocking fee” on electronics, computers, stereos, and on accessories, and they may impose a limited return time on these items.  Additionally, video games that have been opened usually cannot be returned unless the item is defective.  Identify whether the store issues “Gift Receipts” for purchases.  This allows the person who receives a gift to make an exchange.  If the store does have a written return policy, scrupulously read all of the fine print.  Key questions to ask include: Can you receive a cash refund, or are you limited to a merchandise credit?  If you do receive a credit from the store, can you use the credit towards sale items?  Are there time limits on returning merchandise and on using store credit?  Does the item have to be returned in its original packaging with the tags left on the product?  Do you need a receipt?  The adage you get more with sugar than with vinegar holds true when making returns, so keep your calm and remain courteous.


If you received or purchased a gift from an on-line merchant, the return process often differs from that of your brick and mortar store.  You should check to see if you will have to pay a shipping charge to return the product, and whether the merchant has special shipping instructions.  Inquire whether the on-line store operates a retail store in your area where you can make the return yourself to avoid shipping fees.  Find out whether you need to obtain advance permission from the store before you make the return, and whether you need to obtain a Return Merchandise Authorization Number (“RMA”).  You also want to see whether you are responsible to pay a restocking fee, or an “open box fee.”  Do not delay, since many websites have strict time limits on returns.   On the website of the e-tailer, look for the address for where you will send the return, and locate where you can reach customer service if you have a problem.

Consumer Gift Certificate Alert:  If you snooze you may lose when it comes to gift certificates.  When you receive a gift certificate or a gift card, check to see when it expires, and if service fees are applied if you do not use it before the expiration date.  If you have lost or did not redeem a gift certificate before it expired, contact the Pennsylvania Treasury Bureau of Unclaimed Property to see if the Treasury is holding gift certificate funds or other property belonging to you.  You can access the online database at:, or call: 1-800-222-2046.

Effective August 22, 2010, The Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act (also known as “The Card Act”) regulates gift cards. The Act requires that gift cards do not expire for five years after issuance, and the expiration date must be disclosed upfront.  The Card Act also bans dormancy or inactivity fees on gift cards unless there has been no activity in a 12-month period.

Please send your legal and consumer questions to, or write to 2401 Pennsylvania Ave., Suite 1C-46, Philadelphia, PA 19130, Tel: 215-765-4828, Web Address:


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