The <i> Other </i> Exchange of Gifts--Returning the Unwanted

Times Staff Writer

Three more shopping days to Christmas, then the exchange of gifts under the tree, and then the ordeal: It doesn’t fit. It’s the wrong color. You got two of them. You hate it.

You can almost always take it back. But don’t put it off.

In general, you will catch the stores at their most lenient in the two weeks following Christmas. Because of post-Christmas sales, however, the day after the holiday is also the busiest.

So, as Jack McCarley, vice president of public affairs for Bullock’s and Bullocks Wilshire advised, “it’s better to wait a few days. You’ll get better service.”


But make that just a few. Regardless of the policy, the holiday spirit tends to pass quickly.

As Larry King at Tower Records said, “our usual time limit is seven days. It’s strict because of the nature of the product, which can be pirated or duplicated. For Christmas, I’d say the month of January.”

The big department stores tend not to set time limits for returns. A large chain like Circuit City has a year-round 30-day policy.

Smaller stores and boutiques often set limits. Fred Segal Santa Monica has signs posted saying Jan. 10 is the cutoff date for returns, and sales clerks reiterate the message when a purchase is made. If that sounds tough, it’s an extension of the store’s normal “within five days” policy, spokesman Michael Segal said.


The Benetton franchise in Santa Monica issues a bright green code-numbered “gift identification” card with date of purchase, warning that merchandise purchased between Nov. 26 and Dec. 24 must be returned before Jan. 5. That has been the policy for four years, supervisor Marco Pievani said, explaining that “small businesses can’t afford so many returns.”

What you get in exchange for your unwanted Christmas present varies greatly.

Again, big department stores tend to be liberal in giving cash or credit. If they carry the item, they will not demand a receipt. Unless the date of purchase is established, however, and the item has been on sale before the holidays, both the Broadway and Bullock’s warn, the refund will be at the sale price.

Robinson’s limits its cash refunds to $500. Refunds in excess of that amount will come by check in the mail. Customers seeking a cash refund for an item with no receipt can get it, if Robinson’s carries the product and it cost less than $100. Customers seeking a refund on an item costing more than $100 will be get a check mailed to them.


It helps with all stores, at least in terms of the time it takes and often in terms of cash rather than credit, to have a receipt, and the original box, tags or packaging.

At Toys ‘R’ Us in the Carson Mall, manager Sheila Turner said the company-wide policy is to give customers a cash refund if they come in within three weeks with the receipt and original box. If the item was paid for in cash, or a check that has cleared, cash will be refunded; charge accounts will be credited; other than that, it’s store credit.

Richard Sharp at Circuit City headquarters in Richmond, Va., said the giant audio-video store’s “refund and exchange policy is very liberal and hassle-free. We try to be flexible, but it helps if you bring it back with the owner’s manual and all the accessories, like the remote control.” If there is no receipt, and a computer search cannot find the original purchase price, he said, the store will issue a store credit.

In general, Tower Records gives credit, King said, though if customers are willing to wait for about 10 days, they can get a refund check from company headquarters in Sacramento. Fred Segal does not give store credit--just exchanges on the spot. With a receipt, they will give a cash refund.


What if you can’t prove the gift was not bought at that store? What if you know it was bought in your hometown?

Regardless of the merchandiser, the rule of thumb seems to be, “If we carry it . . .” the store will accept it and issue credit or give a cash refund.

Most stores described themselves as eager to please the gift recipient. As Charles Zaca at The Broadway said: “We look at it this way: It’s an opening to bring in a new customer. We want to give good service.”

Still, exchanging gifts can be unpleasant, difficult and sometimes impossible.


For a customer who hits a stone wall at the exchange or refund desk, Consumers Union, publisher of Consumers Report, in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., has a useful reminder--if you’re willing to admit to the buyer that you want to, take that ugly tie back.

And if the store is difficult and the gift was bought with a credit card, help may be available, said Marnie Goodman at Consumers Union. “Under the Federal Fair Credit and Billing Act, you are guaranteed certain rights,” she said. “It makes return and resolution with the store much easier, because the bank acts as middle man in mediating the dispute.”

Generally, the customer withholds payment on the disputed item on the credit card bill, and the bank works it out with the retailer.

If it all sounds too complicated and time consuming, forget it.


Here is an alternative that may be the opportunity of a lifetime. Ken Minyard and Bob Arthur have come to the rescue. KABC radio’s morning talk-show team have announced plans for their first listeners’ gift-exchange or swap in the KABC parking lot.

At KABC this week, details were hazy since both Minyard and Arthur are out of town, but station spokesmen promised that Ken and Bob will be ready with details about time, place and rules of exchange when they return on Monday for their regular 5-to-10 a.m. shift. Stay tuned.