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Don't wait too long to return that gift!

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014 10:00 a.m. CST

CHICAGO — The days after Christmas brings another rush to the stores — the return of unwanted Christmas gifts. But consumers need to be aware the return policies for some retailers have changed and may not necessarily be to the benefit of the consumer.

A number of big named retailers have shortened the amount of time they give for returns and have made specific changes to their policies that effect different types of merchandise. Impacted most will be returns of electronics and appliances. The number of days allowed for these returns have been shortened considerably compared to previous years.

"Many retailers can change policies to place restrictions on returning items this year" said Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. "Where consumers have been used to having as many as 45 days to return their unwanted gifts, in some cases, that has been reduced to 30 days but can be as few as nine days"

These changes mean consumers must take extra care in understanding the return policies of the stores where they shop and should not rely only on what they may be told by a sales clerk. They should look for and read the store's written policy, which by law must be displayed.

Bernas added, "Shoppers need to keep in mind that returns are a customer service and are not required by law unless the merchandise is defective."

For the giver and receiver alike, if you must return an item be prepared:

• Know the store's return policy: Ask what specific return policy applies to the item you are purchasing. Do not assume the regular return policy applies to sales or clearance items. Some merchants consider sales items to be final.  

• Save your receipts: They are usually needed for returns, and ask for a gift receipt.

• Keep the original packaging: Don't remove electronics or similar products from their boxes before wrapping as the original packaging may be required for a return.

• Know the online return policy: If you are shopping online, read the posted return policy before buying. If returns are permitted, be sure to print a copy of what procedures and time frame need to be followed, along with complete contact information for the business from which you are ordering.

• Returns are a courtesy: 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.

• Understand unusual policies: As an example, health regulations, which can prohibit the return of certain items like hats and intimate apparel.

Consumers should be aware that retailers are reacting to yearly losses in the billions of dollars that are due to return fraud, and some have taken the additional step of using a computer database to track customer returns and catch fraudulent or excessive returns.

Those retailers that use "The Return Exchange" to monitor returns will ask customers for a driver's license or some other government issued identification when he or she returns an item.

For additional information on Christmas returns go to www.bbb.org.

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