How do gift receipts work?

Everyone returns a gift now and then. Maybe the item doesn’t fit. Maybe it doesn’t suit your taste. Or maybe you just read a book extolling the virtues of minimalism and want to give that lifestyle a swing.

Whatever your reason, you’re not alone. In 2018, the National Retail Foundation estimated that around $369 billion worth of merchandise was returned, accounting for about 10 percent of total sales. Around the holiday season, an estimated two-thirds of consumers return an item.

“Consumers are really used to being able to return their goods,” says Larisa Summers, senior vice president of Marketing and E-Commerce at Optoro. Optoro is a platform that helps retailers like Target and Staples recoup the costs of returned goods. “I think a lot of consumers are not aware of how complicated that is for retailers.”

You might think that returned goods are restocked on the shelf where they came from, but Summers said this only happens about half of the time. Otherwise, goods are sold to other retailers—or worse, thrown out. Optoro estimates 5 billion pounds of returned items end up in a landfill every year.

So if you’re going to return holiday gifts, do it in a smart and sustainable way. Being smart about returns yields the best gift of all: a less cluttered home and planet.

The Basics

First things first: You have more time than you think. While “30 days after the time of purchase” is the normal year-round policy, most retailers adjust their return deadlines this time of year to accommodate post-holiday returns.

Make sure to pack your item with all tags, accessories, and original packaging as much as possible. Unless you’re exchanging a defective product, make sure that your return is in good condition. Goods returned in their original packaging and condition are much easier to resell, Summers says. Without the original packaging, there’s a higher chance the items will end up getting thrown out.

Got a gift receipt? Generally, having one makes it easier and more likely that you’ll get cash or store credit for your return. Some stores will work with you to gather order information if you’ve lost your receipt. At other retailers, you’ll get zilch. Some stores require you to show them ID, so be sure to bring that along too.

Summers encourages consumers to share why they’re returning a product. Retailers take this kind of feedback seriously since it helps them potentially reduce returns for the following year.

Finally, be aware of individual store policies. Some stores will adjust their rules for opened or unopened products, while others will only take returns and exchanges in stores. Below, we’ve rounded up policies from some of the most popular retailers, but it’s a good idea to have a firm understanding of policies specific to the item you’re trying to return before you head back out into the crowds.

Amazon’s Return Policy

Odds are you received at least one gift from the online retail giant. will honor returns and exchanges for items shipped between November 1 and December 31 this year, so long as you return them by January 31, 2020. Pack your item and log in to your Amazon account to start a gift return. You’ll need to enter the “order ID” from the packing slip. Print and affix the provided return label to your package. When your item is received, you’ll receive a refund in the form of an Amazon gift card.

All of this applies to products from If the item was purchased from a third-party seller, you (or the person who gave you the gift in the first place) would need to facilitate the return with the seller. If you don’t want to bother with the hassle of shipping your package, you may be able to head to Kohl’s and ship out your Amazon return for free.

Tech Retailers: Apple, Best Buy, Target, Walmart

Apple will only accept returns from items that have been purchased at an Apple Store or from Apple’s website. If you received a new product between November 15 and December 25, you have through January 8, 2020 to return or exchange it. For gifts, refunds are issued in the form of an Apple gift card. Exchanges can only be done in the Apple Store.

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There’s a good chance we’ve all be on the receiving end of at least one well-intentioned, but ultimately unwanted, gift this year.

So what are your rights when it comes to returning those unwanted items, whether they were bought on the high street or online?

Here’s all you need to know.

Can I return an unwanted gift bought on the high street?

Most of us assume we can return an item to a shop so long as we have proof of purchase and it’s returned within a reasonable timeframe.

But actually, shops don’t have to accept returned goods unless they are faulty, not as described, or not fit for purpose.

However, if you do want to return an item simply because you don’t like it, most shops will offer to exchange or refund it as a gesture of goodwill.

How long do I have to return my unwanted gift?

The retailer’s returns policy (usually found on the back of the receipt or on the store’s website) should tell you how long you have to return the item. Typically, this is between 28 and 30 days, but many retailers extend this period in the weeks after Christmas.

Shops aren’t required to have a returns policy, but if they do, they have to stick to it.

Some retailers may offer a different type of refund depending upon when the item is returned. They might, for example, offer a full refund if the item is returned within a few days of purchase, but only an exchange or credit note after that.

What do I need to provide when returning an item?

There are a few things you’ll need to have with you when returning an item. These are:

The receipt: if you can’t provide proof of purchase, you may be turned away, so it’s important to bring the receipt with you (or gift receipt which doesn’t show the cost of the item). Once you’ve provided this you should be given either a refund or be able to exchange the item for something you want.

The card used to buy the item: if the item was bought on a credit or debit card then the refund will usually be applied to that card. If you don’t fancy asking whoever bought the present to get the refund and give you the money instead, you’ll most likely have to make do with an exchange or a credit note.

What if I don’t have the receipt?

If you can’t get hold of the receipt and you’re taking an item back simply because you don’t like it, the retailer is under no legal obligation to give you a refund – but the retailer may offer you an exchange or a credit note. Be warned that, if that item is now in the sale, your credit note will reflect that price.

What if the item is faulty?

If you have received a gift that’s faulty, you can return it without a receipt and you still have the right to a refund under the Consumer Rights Act (previously known as the Sale of Goods Act). This must be done within 30 days.

Alternatively, you have six months in which to take the item to the retailer to be repaired. If that is unsuccessful, you are entitled to a full or partial refund.

The downside is these regulations only apply to the person who bought the item, so you may need to ask them to return it for you.

What if the item was bought online?

If the item you want to return was ordered online, over the phone or by mail order, you have even greater protection under the Consumer Contracts Regulations, which replaced Distance Selling Regulations.

Under these regulations, your right to cancel the order starts as soon as it is placed and ends 14 days from the day the goods arrive, giving you time to change your mind and get a full refund even if there’s nothing wrong with the item.

Again, many online retailers extend their returns period following Christmas, but you’ll need to find out when the person who gave you the gift placed the order and you may need to ask them to return it for you.

Bear in mind that, if the goods are unsuitable, you may have to pay the return postage fee, but if the goods are faulty or you’re sent substitute items you don’t want, the retailer must pay the return postage costs.

If the item was bought on an auction site, such as eBay, whether or not you can return it largely depends upon the individual seller and their returns policy. However, if the item is faulty, not as described or never arrives, you may have the right to a refund under the eBay buyer protection policy, or the PayPal buyer protection policy if the goods were paid for using its payment service.

If you’ve paid for a service your right to cancel starts the moment you enter into that contract and lasts for 14 days – this includes gym membership so bear that in mind for January.

You should get a full refund within 14 days of cancelling goods or services online, or within 14 days of sending the goods back to the seller.

If you’ve bought digital content and want to download it within the 14-day cancellation period – say you’ve bought a song on iTunes and want to download it straight away – you’ll have to agree to waive your cancellation rights.

And one final thing to consider is traders can no longer charge for additional items added by a pre-ticked box online, product insurance for instance.

Are there any items I can’t return?

Most retailers’ returns policies will specify you can return non-faulty goods so long as they are unused and in the same condition as when they were bought, including any packaging. However, there are some exceptions:

  • DVDs, music and computer software: many retailers will not accept returns on these items if the seal or packaging has been broken.
  • Earrings, make-up and toiletries: these items can’t be returned for hygiene reasons and this may be extended to items such as underwear and swimwear.
  • Perishable items: such as food and flowers.
  • Bespoke or personalised items: if you have any made-to-measure or monogrammed items it’s unlikely you’ll be able to send them back.

What if the items were paid for by credit card?

Any items costing between £100 and £30,000 that are bought on a credit card are subject to an extra layer of protection under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.

This means that the card provider and the retailer are equally responsible for ensuring you’re provided with the correct goods or service – if an item is faulty, doesn’t arrive or if the retailer goes bust before you receive the goods or services, you can make a claim through the credit card provider.

Give to charity

Alternatively, you could always give your unwanted gift away and either make money for a charity of your choice or help make someone less fortunate that little bit happier this festive season.

And doing your bit won’t even have cost you a penny.

The dodgy seasonal snowflake jumper, the paperback you read when it was out in hardback, the ill-fitting underwear your partner unwisely bought you … just some of the things on the list of Christmas gifts you don’t really want to keep. But can you take these back to where they came from – and should you?

Am I entitled to a refund if I don’t like what I’ve been given?

Contrary to popular belief, you do not have any right to return unwanted goods, only those that are damaged or faulty. However, many retailers will offer either a refund or exchange and many have extended the period in which they will allow returns after Christmas.

Shops’ policies vary, with big retailers like Marks & Spencer and John Lewis offering particularly generous terms. But even where a store does allow for returns, there can still be limits. Many insist that goods are returned in their original packaging and most stores will not allow you to return certain items, such as perishable goods or earrings.

Do I need a receipt?

Your chances of an exchange or refund is greatly enhanced if you have the receipt or other proof of purchase, such as credit card bill. M&S, for example, will give you a full exchange or refund with a receipt or gift receipt until 15 January if you (or someone else) bought the goods between the 1 October and 12 December.

If you do not have a receipt, M&S will still let you return the goods but only at the current selling price – which could be substantially less than they were bought for if they are now in the sale. Without a receipt, it will also only refund you in the guise of a credit note. Some stores, such as TK Maxx, will not allow you a refund or exchange without a receipt.

It is worth bearing in mind for next year’s round of present buying that when you buy an item you have a contract with the seller, so any refund or exchange would be made to you only. However, if you ask for a gift receipt or just write on your receipt “gift for Bob”, for example, your rights transfer to the recipient.

Are the rules different if the gift was bought online?

You have seven working days from the date the item was delivered to cancel the order and return a gift ordered online, even if it’s just because you don’t like it. The retailer should then refund you within 30 days of you cancelling the order. However, as on the high street, the contract is between the buyer and seller, so any refund is likely to be transferred straight back on to the card used to pay for it.

If the goods were dispatched directly to you, you can often use the dispatch note as proof of purchase and can get a refund on this basis, depending on the retailer’s terms and conditions.

Amazon, for instance, promises not to tell the gift giver you are returning an unwanted present. It will give you a gift certificate for the value of the goods if you provide the order number that came on the packing slip when the goods were delivered. If you don’t have the slip, you can contact customer service for the order number. You have to provide the sender’s name and email address, and the phone number of the address to which the gift was shipped.

Regardless of where the buyer bought them, if the goods you have received were personalised you have no chance of returning them.

What if the goods were bought on eBay?

If you are buying from a trader who makes some or all of their living selling on eBay it is worth contacting them. They have no obligation to offer you a refund or exchange unless the item is damaged or faulty, but they may. If the gift comes from a private seller you are very unlikely to get your money back; a lot of the goods sold on eBay are unwanted goods in the first place.

What happens if the goods I ordered arrived after Christmas?

You can only be certain of a refund if delivery by Christmas was guaranteed by the retailer. Online retailers have up to 30 days to deliver goods unless otherwise agreed, so last-minute shoppers may have been caught out.

Is it morally wrong to return Christmas presents?

That is an issue for your conscience. However, if you are uncomfortable with the idea but really don’t want the gift, there are ways to make sure it ends up in a more loving home. You could give it to your local charity shop. Most will be very happy to get books, CDs and games, though there are items they cannot accept for safety reasons. Oxfam will not generally take unwanted hair straighteners or other electrical goods (although a small number of its shops do), and most will decline perishable goods. You could hold a gift-swapping party with friends who have similar unloved presents, or offer the gift up on a website such as Freecycle, which encourages recycling by allowing you to advertise and pass on an item, free, to another person.

Which stores let you do what?

Marks & Spencer has extended its returns policy; if you bought between 1 October and 12 December you can get an exchange or refund up until 15 January. If you can provide proof of purchase or a gift receipt you can get a full refund or exchange, if not you will be offered a credit note for the value of the goods at the current selling price.

John Lewis has no set time limit for the return of unsuitable products, a generous rule that applies all year round. If you can provide proof of purchase or a gift receipt you can get a full refund or exchange. This refund can be put back on to your debit card or be given back in gift vouchers.

Without proof of purchase, so long as the item is still sealed and in a good condition the retailer will offer an exchange or refund in gift vouchers. Refunds will be given at the current selling price.

Debenhams has a 28-day returns policy (35 for its website) but is taking returns with gift receipts until 28 January. Refunds on gift receipts will be on to a gift card. Without proof of purchase, it will exchange at the current or last selling price for alternative products. Where items have been reduced by 50% or more it offers an exchange for another product or refund on a giftcard.

Amazon Items purchased from and dispatched during the period from 1 November 1 to 31 December inclusive may be returned at any time before midnight on 31 January.

In the case of gifts bought for you, you’ll receive a gift certificate for the value of the goods. Unless there is something wrong with them, this will not include the cost of gift-wrapping or the cost of returning the item.

The rules are different if you received a gift that was fulfilled by a third-party seller via Amazon’s Marketplace. In that case, you will need to contact the seller directly about the return.

TK Maxx’s refund policy is still 14 days instore and 28 days online. For a refund, TK Maxx needs the original purchase receipt, and, if appropriate, the original card used to purchase the item. It has extended its store exchange policy for items purchased as gifts between 24 October and 20 January, but you will need a receipt or gift receipt. A gift receipt entitles you to an exchange or a gift card to the value of the item.

‘Gift receipts’ often come with a catch

January is the busiest month of the year for store returns.

But if you are heading back with some gift receipts, you may not be aware that many “gift receipts” come with a secret most shoppers don’t know about.

It turns out a gift receipt is not the same as a regular register receipt.

Thought gift receipt was fine

Barbara Thornton, like so many parents, bought a couple of Christmas gifts for her kids that weren’t quite what they had wanted.

“My daughter wanted to return a gift that I had bought for her because she didn’t need it,” Thornton said.

Only problem: All she had from Bed Bath and Beyond was a gift receipt. “I think I was a little less careful with my original receipt, and it got lost in the wrapping.”

But when her daughter tried to tried to get a $40 refund for a table display she didn’t want, “the gift receipt wouldn’t give her any of her money back,”Thornton said.

She was stunned, having never heard that a gift receipt was good for merchandise credit only.

We checked with Bed Bath and Beyond. It states on their website that while a standard receipt gives you cash back, a gift receipt entitles the recipient to only store credit (unless they have the original credit card number used for purchase).

Many stores limit gift receipt rights

We researched return policies of major retailers and found this is fairly widespread.

Among retailers that will give only an exchange or store credit for returns with a gift receipt in most cases:

  • Sears
  • Best Buy
  • Game Stop
  • Burlington Coat Factory
  • Bed Bath and Beyond

Barbara Thornton has a message for other parents and shoppers now. “Be a little more careful with that original receipt.”

Plus, that way you know what the original selling price was. With a gift receipt, you may not know if you are getting the original price paid or a lower sale price.

As always, don’t waste your money.

“Don’t Waste Your Money” is a registered trademark of Scripps Media, Inc. (“Scripps”). The information included in this article was obtained independently by Scripps reporters. While purchases from links inserted in this article may result in a commission for Scripps, no Scripps reporter benefited from that commission.

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