In an industry that places increasingly less focus on customer service, we, the consumers, are now seeing even fewer accommodations--this time in the world of returns and exchanges.
I must extend a surly "thank you" to all shoppers who've taken advantage of the system, causing the rest of us to suffer the consequences. You are the same loud mouths that gesticulate wildly with creatively concocted four-letter words at the poor Walmart checker while the rest of us glare at you. Apparently your theft has really hurt the industry to the point where policies have changed drastically.
If you have a nasty habit of the buyer's remorse return, or just aren't satisfied with many of your purchases, you need to be aware of the following before digging in the wallet:
1. Gone are the days of even exchange without a receipt.
I am notoriously bad at keeping my proofs of purchase. It just seems like there are better things to do with my 1000 square feet than house small slips of disappearing inked paper. In the past I could count on marching my good-as-new widget up to customer service and obtaining merchandise credit--and I was fully accepting that, if my item were on sale, I'd only get a fraction of what I paid for it. The manager gives me a sigh with a subtle eye roll and I'm on my way to finding something I really want.
In most cases, this practice is a memory. Even in stores with exclusive brands. I'm sure theft is the largest driving force behind the crackdown, but let's have some perspective here. Even if I had stolen that $9.99 tank top, it still has the tag on it and costs full price. But aside from a very few exceptions, you won't be able to exchange.
2. If you can finagle an exchange without your receipt, there are severe limitations.
Mega players like Walmart and Target, armed with millions in sleek management information systems, will allow a certain number of returns within one year. At this time, Target only offers two exchanges of $40 or less within that time. Walmart offers three. Target is a huge stickler for the proof of purchase. A friend tried to return a baby dress for a larger size and was not allowed to select another style dress (of the exact same price!) even though none were left in the style she originally wanted. Too bad.
You will need a driver's license for even changes and it will log your name into the black list system. There are no exceptions as corporate has blocked all local control of returns.
3. Read the fine print for online purchases.
Some online merchants offer complimentary returns and exchanges at a bricks and mortar store while others do not. It is up to you to scout out the details. Some stores (especially large shoe retailers) allow a limited number of free shipping returns if they don't have a physical outlet. Most stores require a merchandise authorization form before shipping back to the company to verify that a return is being delivered.
4. There are no exceptions for gift registries.
Hark! Heed my knowledge! Here's the deal with gift registries. You assume that when selecting hundreds (or thousands) of dollars worth of future gifts from a department store that they would make a few return concessions to express their gratitude. After all, you are handing over revenue to them, silver platter style, by inviting your closest friends and family to shower you with gifts from their store. My friend, you are mistaken. In most cases, there is no additional service provided to you for having a registry.
Perhaps it's just my personal experience, but the majority of shower gifts are given without a receipt. So if you were given three booster seats (because Grandma doesn't know to print the list and have the checker cross it off in the system, because the checker doesn't input it correctly, etc...) exchanging them for something else is impossible. Here's a short summary of your favorite registry spots:
5. Be aware of the number of days given to complete a return.
Merchants have been more lenient in the past when it comes to time periods and returns, but not as much today. If you purchased a Christmas gift for Aunt Jean in July, make sure to include both a gift receipt and the original receipt in case she needs to return that fruit cake. If you purchase something in anticipation of using it at a later date, especially keep hang on to the proof of purchase. Tape it on the box if you need to. We purchased a travel system for our first baby that had very poor performance, but bought it well in advance. Babies 'R Us was gracious enough to give us an exchange with the receipt after reviewing our daughter's date of birth and receipt.
6. Make it a habit to keep every receipt.
Just get into the habit of keeping your receipts. Get an accordion folder and organize once a month. After a year, clear everything out and start over. It can't hurt for budget management either.
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