The dreaded post-holiday return.
"Hey! Great sweater, Aunt Margie ... um, where did you buy it?"
Returning gifts after the holidays can be especially tough on everyone's nerves. A recent National Retail Federation survey found that 38 percent of consumers plan to return at least some portion of their gifts this year.
Britt Beemer, the chairman of America's Research Group, predicts that retailers will be stricter with returns this year because even when not fraudulent, they are expensive for stores.
Though you're trip likely won't be hassle-free, here are a few tips from the experts on how save your sanity.
No one says you have to battle the day-after-Christmas crowds - holiday return policies often are extended.
Make sure you know how long you have because although some stores give you up to 90 days, certain items - such as electronics, which have a shorter shelf life - have smaller time frames.
Don't Open It:
It's tempting, but if you have any doubts whatsoever, don't open it, remove the tags or otherwise lose or damage the packaging.
Some stores don't accept opened merchandise, while others might have a restocking fee if opened, said Wallace Barron, the director of Community Services for the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia and the CSRA.
If the product is defective, there should be no charge on opened merchandise, but check the store policy ahead of time.
Keep the receipt:
Retailers face a growing amount of return fraud and often require a receipt to prove the item was purchased at their store, Mr. Barron said.
At the very least, keep the ticket on the merchandise, said Gwendolyn Knight, the store manager for Stein Mart on Washington Road. Without a receipt, stores don't know how much was paid for it and you'll have to accept the current value, she said.
Check the return policy ahead of time:
Most stores simply need a receipt, but it's good to know exactly what you'll need to make a return go smoothly. Some retailers simply don't do returns on certain gifts, such as lingerie.
Call ahead or check online.
Keep Your Cool:
Patience might be a virtue, but it's also a must if you want to survive the return line.
Remember that store staff is feeling the pressure, too. Losing your temper will only make the experience worse.
"Common courtesy and kindness go a long way with getting issues resolved," Mr. Barron said.
The staff might even bend the rules if you treat them well.
Ms. Knight said that if you're missing tags or a receipt, you need to be extra patient because it will take longer to handle the return.
Always Be Prepared:
It might be the Boy Scout motto, but let's face it - it's practical. This isn't going to be a quick trip, so make sure you have plenty of time, Mr. Barron said.
Don't go out on an empty stomach, which makes you more irritable, he said. Have your ducks in a row and be organized. It cuts down on hassles.
Have Your Credit Card Ready:
If you want cash back, you better have the right credit or debit card on hand, Mr. Beemer said. Most stores will do returns only on the same card.
If you don't have the right card and a receipt, expect store credit or an exchange.
Flex Your 'Loyal Customer' Muscle:
If you're a frequent customer, Mr. Beemer suggests using that sway to get results if you run into a snag.
"Don't be timid about telling them you're a good customer," he said.
Stores don't want to lose a regular, so showing them your loyalty - sometimes even through credit card bills - might urge them to be more flexible.
If you can't return the item but don't know what to do with it, try giving it to someone who would appreciate it.
You also can donate it to a charity or try selling it on eBay. Someone could fall in love with that kitty-cat vest.
If All Else Fails:
If you have trouble getting a store to honor its policy, first talk with the manager or customer service. Mr. Barron said that sometimes it's simply a miscommunication easily resolved.
You can contact the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs at (800) 869-1123 for Georgia. In South Carolina, call the Department of Consumer Affairs at (800) 922-1594.
Mr. Barron said consumers also can contact the Better Business Bureau for help resolving complaints.
Reach Laura Youngs at (706) 823-3227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.