Take the hassle out of exchanging purchases

The Etiquette of Exchanging Purchases

by Shaunna Privratsky


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Oh no! Your daughter turns her nose up at the jeans you bought for her. The sweater you gave your husband doesn't fit. Your son won't be caught dead in the brand-name polo shirts you picked up on clearance.

Time for exchanging purchases. If exchanging purchases and returning merchandise make you groan, here are some tips to make returns easier and exchanges effortless.

  1. Make it timely. Most stores accept returns up to two months. The sooner the better, because the store can restock the items and sell it to someone else.

  2. Make it easy. Keep all tags and receipts for the quickest and easiest exchanges. Don't give up if you don't have one or the other. Many stores can electronically trace your purchase and print a new receipt, if you paid with their store card, a credit or debit card, or a check. If you have the receipt, but lost the tag, the store can often look up the item number.

  3. Know the store's policy on returns. It is usually printed on your receipt, or you can call the customer service at the store. A general rule of returns is you can get your money back in the form you originally paid, or an even exchange.

  4. Be careful with clearance items. Many stores will not accept returns on clearance items. Some will allow store credit on returns, or an even exchange. Doing your homework will save you some grief later.

  5. Holiday and seasonal items have a narrow window for returns. So if you can't use that set of Christmas dishes you were given, hustle to the store right away. Stores are a little more relaxed with their return policy around the holidays.

  6. Save the original boxes and packing. This seems like a no-brainer, but I've often seen people try to return something in a plastic bag or plain box.

  7. Electronic returns are trickier. Many stores will not take back electronics unless they are unopened. The time limit is usually much shorter, as well. They will provide a replacement if something is clearly broken.

  8. Know what you want and ask for it. If you want to get a different size, tell them. If you want your money back, tell them that. If you prefer a store credit for a later shopping date, state that. You will both end up happier if you are on the same page.

  9. Don't ask for something you know the store won't or can't do. For example, if you know the policy is no cash back, and you paid with a credit card, do not demand cash.

  10. Be pleasant. No matter how upset you are that the product you purchased didn't work out, don't take it out on the clerk. They are much more likely to do whatever they can to help if you are pleasant.

  11. If you can't get the satisfaction you want, then politely ask for a manager or supervisor. Only do this as a last resort, because anytime you go over someone's head, they will probably resent you.

If you find you are standing in the return line much too often, take a moment to ask yourself why. Here is a list of reasons you might need to return an item, and what you can do to correct the problem.

  1. The wrong size. Write down the sizes of items you frequently buy for your family on a small note card. Now when you run across a bargain, you can check sizes before you buy.

  2. The wrong style. If your kids reject your choices, make them go shopping with you, or skip buying them clothes altogether. You might start a clothing allowance and choose one or two times a year to go shopping. If they pick it out, they are going to wear it.

  3. Something the person doesn't need or want. Did you buy something just because it was on sale? Or maybe you thought the item was needed. Instead, wait until your family asks for something. Keep an ongoing list on the fridge and encourage everyone to write down what they need.

  4. Do you often have to return items you bought on impulse? Thinking over every purchase, even the small items, can really save a bundle. Ask yourself if it is something you need, or just want because it's on sale or pretty or seems useful. Wait until the next shopping trip, and if you still want or need it, buy it.

  5. Sunk by the stocking up syndrome. Do you love to stockpile items? Sometimes that is good, but if you are frequently returning things because you bought too much, curtail the stockpiling. Limit yourself to five items, until you find a balance.

There will always be times we need to exchange something, but by following these hints, it doesn't have to be a hassle. With just a little forethought, a pleasant attitude and a smile, you can master the etiquette of exchanging.

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