Consumer Protection

Refunds and Exchanges

Gift-giving and receiving can be a fun experience, but a difficult return policy can spoil the moment. Because retailers usually allow shoppers to make returns regardless of the reason, many consumers assume that return policies allowing a full refund or credit are required by law. That is not the case.

Retailers do not have to accept at-will returns. Even in cases where a product is being returned because it is defective, consumers may find that they need to deal with the manufacturer of the product directly rather than simply returning the item to the place of purchase. When that happens, the resulting delay and burden of shipping the product to the manufacturer can come as an unwelcome shock, especially for the recipient of a gift.

As a gesture of good will and because retailers want to please their loyal customers, most offer a full refund if you have a receipt and promptly return the item, even if it just the wrong size. Other retailers, however, have an “All Sales are Final” policy for steeply discounted items or items that will be difficult to resell. Return policies not only differ from store to store, but can also differ for items purchased in-store, and items bought online or by mail-order.

If an item was purchased online, even through a national retailer’s website, the buyer may have to ship it back instead of dropping it off at a nearby store. Some retailers may even require consumers to pay for shipping costs associated with returning the item. The key is to check before you buy, and if it is a gift, be sure to let the recipient know about the policy.

Some retailers that allow returns may charge restocking fees for certain products returned to their stores. Consumers can get hit with a fee of 10 to 25 percent of the price if the package is not in the condition in which it was received. One reason for these charges is that merchants cannot resell the item as new after the box has been opened. Items like computer software, CDs and DVDs are not generally returnable after the seal has been broken.


  • Review and understand a store’s return policy before purchasing.
  • Keep all of your receipts. Some stores provide gift receipts to include with your gifts.
  • Do not open the box if you are not sure you will keep it. Keep in mind that online purchases may be more difficult to return.