No matter how hard you try, sometimes the perfect Christmas gift isn’t as perfect as you thought it would be (or a friend thought it would be for you).

No one needs to say “Bah, humbug” after receiving an unloved gift, however, because you can always return an unwanted item for cash, credit or a new piece of merchandise. The timing of your return can affect how much value you get back and/or how long you’ll have to wait for a replacement.

Using the tips below for returning Christmas gifts will help you avoid wasting your valuable time and missing out on the full value of your item.

Best price grunge round blue seal
Best price grunge round blue seal


The day after Christmas is one of the biggest shopping/return days each year because retailers immediately try to dump their entire excess Christmas inventory by slashing prices. This might be the best day to return items if you plan on looking for more bargains with your return credit or cash. In addition to getting great buys, you’ll avoid missing out on fabulous deals because a store’s inventory gets wiped out by people who beat you to it. Even if you’re just exchanging something for a different size or color, you don’t want to have to wait weeks or more for a replacement by waiting too long.

One of the problems with shopping the day after Christmas is that you’ll face the rush and crush of extra traffic, bad parking, crowded stores, busy clerks and long lines. If you don’t need to return an item immediately, wait a few days to avoid these problems.


Even if the gift you plan to return was purchased at a brick-and-mortar store, make sure you find out a store’s return policies before you drive to any location. You might need to bring ID or a receipt, or find there’s a specific time window during which you can return an item. You might also be limited to store credit or an exchange for the same item (but a different size or color). A quick phone call can also get you some personal tips from a helpful store manager.

If the item was purchased online, you still might be able to return it to or exchange it at a local store near you. Print your transaction confirmation or any other information that shows you purchased online, including a copy of a credit card statement.

alarm clock
alarm clock


The sooner you get to a retailer, the better chance you’ll have of getting an exchange item you want (and better parking). The longer you wait, the more items will have been snapped up by other shoppers hungry for discounts.


Make it easy to search a store’s inventory or your purchasing history by having your smartphone with you. Bookmark the websites of the stores you used so you can quickly pull up a receipt or order confirmation while you’re talking to a clerk at the returns counter.

credit cards stack on white
credit cards stack on white


Some retailers ask you to present the credit the card you used to buy an item when you make a return or request a refund. When buying gifts, keep track of which cards you use and bring the right one to a return. If you’re not sure which card you used, bring all of your cards.


Some stores require an ID for all returns and refunds. This makes it more difficult for criminals to get cash, credit or other goods for items they’ve stolen.

Receipts on white background
Receipts on white background


This is probably the most important aspect of returning gifts, but often the most difficult when you’re returning a gift you received. If you can tactfully ask your gift giver for the receipt, you’re in good shape. If not, all is not lost. Calling ahead will help you determine whether or not you can return a gift without a receipt. Many stores will do this, but might require an ID. Without a receipt you’ll have to settle for the sales price amount that’s in effect the day you return the item, rather than the day it was purchased.

When you’re buying gifts the first time, have a separate envelope for all receipts and print out receipts and confirmations of every online purchase you make. As a courtesy to gift recipients, include your receipts with your gifts. To make this less tacky, put the receipt in a sealed envelope your giftee can open at her discretion.


Don’t tear off plastic wrap, break seals or otherwise damage boxes or packaging if you want to exchange the item or get a refund. If the package is opened or damaged, call ahead to find out the store policy on opened gifts. Some stores might take the item back after a visual inspection of the contents.


You will most likely be responsible for the return shipping costs when returning gifts purchased online. Review the company’s return policies to make sure you ship the item to the correct location. Pack the item securely and consider buying insurance from the shipper if the item is more valuable than the free insurance the shipper offers. Save your shipping documents. Even if it seems like an easy procedure, call the company to make sure you have followed all directions and ask for any tips the phone associate can give you.



If you received a gift card for a store that has nothing you want, you can sell your gift cards (at a discount) on a number of websites, such as, or If the amount is $100 or more, you might ask friends or family if they want to buy the card at a discount. Just make sure this doesn’t get back to the person who gave you the card. You can also put a gift card on Craigslist or eBay, but you’ll have extra mailing costs.


Give gift cards: If you want to reduce the hassles associated with returning gifts you gave to your kids or partner, or to reduce the chance a friend or co-worker will have to exchange your item, find out where they like to shop and give a gift card.

Re-gift: If you receive a gift you don’t want, think about who else might like it. Re-gifting can usually be done discreetly and creates a win/win for you and your giftee. Just make sure the items isn’t something the person who gave it to you will ask to see the next time she stops by for a visit or ends up seeing it at your friend’s house.

This article was written by Sam Ashe-Edmunds, contributor for The Daily Clutch.