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Despite your best intentions, some gifts you buy this holiday season may need to be returned or exchanged.  Before you head to check-out, make sure you carefully read each store’s return policy.

Return-1Massachusetts law requires merchants to disclose their refund, return, and cancellation policies before the transaction is completed.  A seller can have any type of return policy it wants.  “All sales final,” “merchandise credit only,” “full cash refunds within 30 days” – whatever it may be, the return policy must be clearly and conspicuously disclosed to the buyer.

Usually retailers place signs stating these policies near or at the cash register.  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.  If you do not see these policies posted, ask the cashier or manager. 

Restrictions in return policies do not apply to defective goods, which cannot be used as intended (such as a toaster that will not toast or a television that does not get a picture). The store is required to give you the choice of a refund, repair or replacement.  A seller cannot misrepresent its refund, return, or cancellation policy, or fail to honor any promises about it. Specially-ordered merchandise may have additional restrictions.

Here are some tips to consider as you shop and before you make your purchase:

  1. Keep your receipts: To improve your chances of getting a full refund, make sure you get a sales slip or gift receipt.
  2. 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 on opened items originally packaged in hard plastic or shrink-wrap.
  3. Speak up: If you have trouble returning an item with the cashier, ask for the store manager or customer service department.
  4. Avoid frequent returns: Some stores keep a “black list” of “serial returners,” and many retailers use proprietary software systems to monitor return behavior.  The system automatically instructs cashiers to reject returns when customers bring back items too often or for too much money.  If your return behavior gets you red-flagged, the company will send you a copy of your file if you ask for it. You can then check for mistakes and request corrections.


This post is part of our “Shopping 101” series, bringing you timely information as you shop this holiday season.  For more information on your shopping rights, click here.

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