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Despite your best intentions, some gifts you buy this holiday season may need to be returned or exchanged. In fact, the National Retail Federation released a survey that showed almost two-thirds of people said they made at least one return during last year’s holiday season.  So whether you gave the gift or received it, it’s important to know the return policy of the store where you purchased it.

“All sales final,” “merchandise credit only,” “full cash refunds within 30 days.” If it seems like return policies vary from store to store, it’s because they do. Many consumers may be surprised to learn that there is no law governing return policies in Massachusetts. A seller can have any type of return, refund, or cancellation policy they want as long as those policies are clearly and conspicuously disclosed to the buyer before the transaction is completed. The seller also cannot misrepresent its refund, return, or cancellation policy, or fail to honor any promises about it.

During the holiday season, stores are slashing prices and offering great deals on their products. It is important to note that consumers have exactly the same rights for goods bought during a sale as they do for full priced goods.  What you paid is what you get back – nothing more, nothing less.

Here are some tips to consider when making your purchases:

  • Be sure you understand the return, refund, and cancellation policies. Some consumers mistakenly believe that after they purchase a product they have a “cooling-off period” during which they can cancel a contract. The law only provides for “cooling-off” periods in extremely limited situations.
  • Keep your receipts. Receipts are proof of purchase and improve your chances of getting a full refund. If you’re purchasing the item as a gift, ask for a gift receipt. Note: if a return policy is only listed on the sales receipt, that is not considered clear and conspicuous prior disclosure, as you only get a receipt after the sale is completed.
  • Open at your own risk:Return the item in new condition, unopened, and with all original packaging material. Some retailers charge a “restocking fee” on certain products if the box is opened before the item is returned, unless it is defective.  Many stores will not allow returns of opened items originally packaged in hard plastic or shrink-wrap.
  • Speak up:If you’re confused or unsure about a return policy, ask the cashier to explain it before you purchase the item.  Likewise, if you have trouble returning an item with the cashier, ask for the store manager or customer service department.
  • Defective merchandise must be accepted for return, regardless of any policy, and you must be given the option of a repair, replacement item, or refund of the price.

This post is part of our “Holiday Shopping” series, bringing you timely information as you shop this holiday season.  For more information on your shopping rights, click here.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s vehicular and customized wheelchair Lemon Laws and Arbitration Programs, Data Breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the MA Do Not Call Registry.

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