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Many Happy Returns: Know Your Rights If You Need to Take a Gift Back

Dennis discusses gift return and refund policies and consumers' rights to have return policies clearly and conspicuously posted.

Although there are always a few remarkable souls who finish their holiday shopping before Thanksgiving, most of us will still be out there jamming the stores during the last week before Christmas.  And no matter how hard we try to pick out the perfect gift, some of our carefully chosen gifts are going to wind up at the return counter.  (Some people just don’t appreciate the artistic merit of a bona fide Christmas Story leg lamp.) 

If you are on the receiving end of a gift that needs to be returned, it is important to understand what restrictions a store can or cannot put on returns.  A retailer is not required to have any specific return policy under the laws of the State of Ohio.  Some stores have a “no questions asked” policy, while other stores, especially those offering heavily discounted or discontinued merchandise, allow no returns at all. 

While most stores will gladly accept returns, almost all retailers have some restrictions.  A store can require that a return be made within a certain length of time, typically 90 days.  Certain items, such as electronics or software, may have a much shorter return period and may not be returnable at all once they have been opened.

Stores can also restrict the form of payment on a refund.  Some retailers will make the refund in the form of a store credit, which can only be used to buy other merchandise from that retailer.  This is especially true when an item is returned without a receipt.

Of course, it may be a little awkward to ask Aunt Jenny for the receipt when you go to return that orange plaid shirt she gave you, but retailers have largely solved this problem through the use of gift receipts.  According to the Better Business Bureau, six out of ten people say that they now include a gift receipt when giving a gift.

If a store does place any restrictions on returns, Ohio law requires that the store post its policy “clearly and conspicuously.”  As a practical matter, the policy should be posted at the checkout counter of the store or on the checkout page of a website.  It is not legal for a retailer to print a restrictive return policy only on the back of its receipts, because a consumer does not get the receipt until after the sale is completed.  Notice has to be given before the sale to comply with the law.

Of course, no matter what a retailer’s return policy is, the store is not required to take back goods that are worn or used.  That does not mean that you can’t try a dress on before deciding that you don’t like.  It does mean that you can’t wear it on your vacation to Florida and then return it when you get back.

Happy shopping, and protect yourself at all times.

Patch posts are general discussions and should not be used as advice on any specific legal matter.  If you need legal advice on a particular matter, please consult an attorney.

Have a question or a topic suggestion?  Contact Dennis at dspirgen@aol.com.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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