Are product return policies different during the holiday season than the rest of the year?
Sometimes the return policies are more lenient during the holiday season. And some retailers have relaxed policies because of the recession.
Here are some things Consumer Reports suggests you consider about returns during the holidays and how things might differ online as opposed to at a store.
• Know the time frame. Big retailers usually allow 90 days for returns of most items but might have shorter periods for electronics, software, and CDs and DVDs. Retailers sometimes extend deadlines during the holiday shopping seasons. Electronics bought at Walmart usually must be returned within 15 or 30 days, for example, but this year the clock doesn't start ticking until December 26 for purchases made between November 15 and December 25.
• Get a receipt. Many merchants used to offer at least store credit to shoppers without a receipt, but now some shoppers might be out of luck. If the purchase was made by credit card, debit card or check some stores will try to find an electronic receipt.
• Bring a driver's license. Some companies, like Best Buy, require a government-issued ID with a receipt to make a return. (That way they can track serial returners even if the transaction is in cash.)
• Be sure before you open the box. Merchants can't resell an item as new after the package has been opened, so they impose a restocking fee, usually 15 percent of the product's cost. The fees apply mostly to electronics, but Sears also charges for mattresses, built-in appliances, and special orders on hardware, sporting goods, and other merchandise. Even a missing instruction manual, cords and cables or warranty card can give retailers reason to deny the return.
• Know where to go. If the item was purchased online and the merchant has a walk-in store, check the website to see whether the store accepts returns to avoid repacking, a post-office trip, and shipping fees.
For these and other tips see visit www.ConsumerReports.org.