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

“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.

Retailers often place signs stating these policies near or at the cash register. If you do not see these policies posted, ask. A seller cannot misrepresent its refund, return, or cancellation policy, or fail to honor any promises about it.

Restrictions in return policies do not apply to defective goods, which cannot be used as intended (such as a toaster that won’t 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.  Specially-ordered merchandisemay have additional restrictions. To learn more about product warranties, click here.couple shopping

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 have trouble returning an item with the cashier, ask for the store manager or customer service department.

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 all Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws, data breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Program and the state’s Do Not Call Registry.

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