Spending

From iPhones to best-selling books: Holidays gifts that are hard to return, and what to know to get money back

"Apple products have shorter return periods than other items."

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Most of us have opened a gift around the holidays and thought, "I hope they kept the receipt." That's why knowing store return policies is even more important at this time of year. Although retailers are a little more lax about refunds around holidays, some items are harder to return than others.

"There has always been a two-tier system when it comes to returns," says Edgar Dworsky, founder of Consumer World. For example, he says, most items at Walmart can be returned within 90 days, but electronics need to be returned within 30 days.

There are lots of reasons why a product might be hard to return. It could be the window of time you are given to make the return, the condition the product must be in, or whether it was discounted when you bought it. Here are four holiday gifts that might be hard to return and why, as well as some helpful tips if you are looking to exchange an item for money or store credit.

1. Apple products and other cellphones

Apple has one of the "worst" return policies, says Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst with DealNews.com.

Dworsky agrees that Apple policies are stringent. "Apple products have shorter return periods than other items," he says. Items must be returned within two weeks of purchase. The policy is expanded this holiday season, so items purchased between November 1 and December 25 can be returned through January 8 next year.

Items must be repackaged with all the cords, adapters, and documents.

Generally, the window of time to return any cell phone, not only an iPhone, is shorter than the standard 30-day policy, Dworsky says.

  • At Best Buy, "activatables," which include cell phones, cellular tablets, mobile hotspots, cellular wearables, have a 14-day return policy
  • Walmart does not offer refunds for cell phones but you can exchange it if you present a receipt within 14 days of purchase

2. Books

Books aren't always hard to return, Ramhold says, but some stores can be discerning. Folded page corners or dinged up covers can result in a store refusing to take it back.

"If there's any chance you may want to return a book, it's best to keep it wrapped up somewhere while you consider it," she says. "If you're hoping to read it and then return it, I wouldn't count on being able to do so. If the book appears to have been used at all, the odds are high that the store won't take it back."

Some books might come in gift wrapping, she adds. If you take it out of its wrapping, the store might not offer a refund. "If the book was purchased shrink-wrapped, for instance, in many cases it must still be shrink-wrapped to be successfully returned," she says.

3. Swimwear and select clothing

Even if you know someone has a honeymoon or a tropical vacation coming up, swimwear and intimates are a risky gift due to sizing and taste, but stringent return policies make them even riskier. "Things like underwear and swimwear can be really difficult to return as they often include a hygienic strip on them and if that's missing, most stores won't take the items back," says

Excluding intimates, some stores are still particular about what they take back. Items must be "basically ready to put back on the rack," she says.

There has always been a two-tier system when it comes to returns.
Edgar Dworsky
founder of Consumer World

"I can attest that I bought a dress years ago and left it in the bag the store gave to me and when I tried to return it a few days later, they said it was too wrinkled to take back," she says "Even with the tags still on and no signs of the item having been worn, some associates may reject a return if they think it can't be resold."

Some stores can be pretty picky with special occasion dresses, Dworksy says. "Macy's has a rule that special occasion dresses can be returned but they must have all the tags still attached and the dress was not worn," he says. "This is to thwart 'wardrobing,' where someone buys an item for a single purpose, uses it, and then returns it."

4. Final sale items

With so many people on your shopping list, it's only natural to gravitate toward the sale rack to save some money. If you do choose to buy a present on sale, be sure to read the fine print as many discounted items might be impossible to return or even exchange.

Anything marked as "final sale" is unreturnable. In stores, there might be a final sale rack, but online it's a little harder to tell, so be sure you're double-checking before making your purchase. "It's usually on the product pages if you're shopping online," Ramhold says.

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