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BBB tips on returns, exchanges for gifts

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By Cathy Williamson

Each year, Better Business Bureau receives calls after the holidays from upset consumers who are stuck with items they cannot return. This holiday season, BBB wants to remind consumers to know their rights before making a purchase. BBB offers this advice on returns/exchanges:

Know the seller’s return policy. Be sure to find out about a store’s return policies before making a purchase—especially a major one. Keep in mind returning or exchanging items is a privilege, not a right. State and federal laws do not require that retailers provide returns or exchanges.

The merchandise was defective. Now what? Regardless of a store’s policy, if the goods you have purchased were misrepresented or are defective, you have every reason to expect the store to provide a suitable substitute or refund, or make proper repairs. The laws in all states require a store to make good in such cases. Keep in mind health regulations forbid returns of such items as hats, bathing suits and other intimate apparel.

You want to return an item and get your money back. Stores that offer refunds as a policy, do so voluntarily. These policies usually require products be returned within a specific period of time and in original purchase condition. In almost every case, a sales slip or some other evidence the item was actually purchased at a particular store is also required. If a customer does not have evidence of purchase, he or she may not receive a refund or may not receive the full amount of the purchase price. In some stores, all sales are final.

Understand exchanges or credits. In a product exchange, an item may be returned and another item of equal value may be received in its place. This privilege is usually extended when the buyer has made a reasonable mistake; for example, in the size or color of the product purchased. In other instances, customers may receive a credit slip after returning an item. This store credit allows consumers to purchase any other item at that store which has the same monetary value as the item he or she has returned.

Check if there are restocking fees if an item is returned. If you custom order a product, many stores charge a restocking fee for returns. It is a good idea to keep the packaging an item was wrapped in just in case it is required for return by the store to the manufacturer. Or if you know you are going to return it, don’t open the package at all. Many retailers have restocking fees for high-priced merchandise such as electronics and furniture.

What to do if the product has a separate written warranty. Some products have warranties that spell out the manufacturer’s liability if the product is defective. Reading a product’s warranty before returning an item to a store from which it was purchased is highly recommended. In some cases, warranties exempt stores from product liability and require consumers to mail the product to a manufacturer or other business in order to receive monetary refunds, credit, or product replacement.

If the purchase is made under a written contract, normal return privileges may be affected. A contract usually provides its own conditions for return of the goods and cancellation of an agreement. Always read and understand a contract before you sign it; never sign a blank contract and always keep a copy of the contract.

Always keep receipts and original packaging.

Cathy Williamson is manager of the Lincoln Trail Area branch of the Better Business Bureau. Contact her at (270) 982-1289 or cwilliamson@bbbkyin.org.