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Strategies for hassle-free holiday returns

Giving and receiving gifts is a big holiday tradition, but there is a downside to the usually happy exchange. Retailers said return fraud cost them an estimated $2.2 billion last holiday season, according to a survey from the National Retail Federation.

The types of fraud include everything from “wardrobing” — the practice of buying an item, wearing it with tags, then returning it — to e-receipt fraud. 

Some retailers have gotten more strict with their holiday return policies, while others relax their policies around the holidays, said Cameron Huddleston, a former contributing editor of and currently a columnist with Go Banking Rates. Huddleston compiled a list of stores that stand out for their generous policies, including Anthropologie, CostcoJ.C. PenneyKohl’sMacy’s and ZapposNordstrom, a super standout, doesn’t even have a return policy — they just work with each customer on a case-by-case basis, Huddleston says.

But even the generous stores might restrict returns on certain items such as electronics, furniture or jewelry, and they may charge a restocking fee.

If you find yourself having to return something this holiday season, keep a few tips in mind:

  • Avoid making returns the day after Christmas. Check the store’s holiday return policy and find a less hectic day before the deadline. If you have any problems with your return, you’ll have an easier time getting help from staff and managers if stores aren’t crowded.
  • Confirm the return policy details before you go. Retailers with special holiday return policies may extend returns through January for items purchased as early as October. Be sure the item you want to return doesn’t have a smaller return window, and if the policies are not clearly provided online or on your receipt, call customer service, Huddleston said.
  • You might be able to return gifts purchased online in a brick-and-mortar store, but check first, because some retailers do not allow the practice.
  • Take a gift receipt, packing slip or some proof of purchase. While it isn’t always necessary — some stores can track purchases internally — it makes the process smoother. Also, be sure to return the item in its original packaging. And know that when returning a gift, you might receive a gift card or store credit.

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