Brace yourself for long lines at customer service.
Return, exchange or even sell your unwanted holiday gifts.
The annual return-a-thon kicks off early Tuesday as retailers start after-Christmas sales aiming to unload more merchandise.
According to the National Retail Federation, three out of four holiday shoppers checked return policies before making a purchase.
“We do see that about 27% of holiday shoppers say they’ll usually include a gift receipt,” said Katherine Cullen, the federation’s director of retail and consumer insights.
Gift receipts can make the returns process much easier but many retailers have relaxed their regular return policies for the holiday season.
Cullen said the retail group’s survey showed consumers on average returned only 4% of their gifts. The percent was slightly higher among millennials who returned 7% of their gifts.
Although you can ship some unwanted gifts back to retailers, when possible go to the stores to do returns, said Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing for DealNews.com.
Sakraida said this is helpful especially if you don’t have a receipt or are looking for flexibility.
“If they know you’re going to be buying something else in that visit, they’re more likely to be accommodating,” Sakraida said of retailers.
If you can’t return or exchange gifts, consider selling them on eBay or similar apps and websites.
“EBay’s a great option for consumers who are looking to sell gifts that weren’t quite right,” said Laura Chambers, eBay’s vice president of consumer selling, in a prepared statement. “As one of the largest marketplaces with 168 million buyers, there’s always someone who wants to purchase what you’re selling.”
Follow these tips and skip the post-holiday-gift-return headache:
Know the policies, deadlines: Read policies at store websites, on store signs or on the back of receipts.
Avoid the crowds: Early mornings and late evenings can be less chaotic times to make a return, but immediately after Christmas, you should expect long lines. It might be best to wait a few days.
Receipts: Having an original receipt or gift receipt usually makes the return process go more smoothly and improves your chances of getting a full refund. At Target, a gift receipt will get you a merchandise return card, which unlike a regular gift card only can be used in-store.
No receipt: Returns without a receipt usually result in a merchandise credit for the lowest recent sale price or possibly no refund or exchange at all, depending on the store’s policy.
Exchange it: Like the gift but want it in another color or size? This is a possibility. Look for the item or ask for assistance and if it’s not in stock, ask a store associate if it’s available online or at another store location.
Mystery gift: Not sure where a gift came from? If it has a barcode, try scanning it with a smartphone app such as ShopSavvy, which is available for Apple and Android.
Bring your ID: Even if you have a receipt, some stores require a government-issued ID.
Extra fees: If you are returning any electronics or an item that has been opened, be prepared to pay a restocking fee of up to 15 percent.
Talk to a manager: If you have a problem returning a gift, contact the store manager or the retailer’s customer service department.
Be nice: Some returns are granted on a case-by-case basis, so patience and kindness may go a long way.
Gift cards were one of the most requested holiday gifts. (Photo: unknown, anastasiamariecards.com)
For the 11th year in a row, gift cards were the most requested gift. If you received one, here are some tips to get the most out of them:
The fine print: Read the card’s terms and conditions. Pay close attention to whether the card is redeemable only at a certain store or location.
Fees: Some state laws, including Florida, bar service fees and expiration dates on store gift cards, but the rules on cards branded with the name of a credit card company are stricter. These cards cannot expire for at least five years and cannot have a service fee deducted unless it has not been used in 12 months.
Bonus cards: If you received a bonus gift card, sometimes called bonus bucks, most of these expire. Some stores and restaurants treat these as coupons and have restrictions on how they can be used. Also, many gift card deals are available through Dec. 31 so consider buying more cards to use yourself.
More: Holiday bonus! Buy a gift card, get a freebie at these restaurants
Protect your card: Some gift cards can be registered as credit cards on websites listed on the card, which can protect them against theft or loss. Also take photos of the front and back of the card or write down card details as some companies will replace lost or stolen cards if you can provide specifics. Receipts with card information are good to hold on too.
Use it: You never know when a retailer may close — think of Sports Authority — so use the cards as soon as possible.
Trade it: If you get an unwanted card, you can sell it or trade it for another card at sites like CardPool.com, Raise.com and CardCash.com. At most Target stores, you can trade almost any gift card for a Target gift card. Learn more at Targettrade-in.com. Just know you won’t get the full value of the cards.
The retailer will buy gift cards from other stores in exchange for store credit.
Here are some of the best things to shop for during after-Christmas sales:
Holiday items: Artificial Christmas trees, decorations, gift wrap, bags, bows and items packaged with holiday branding will be marked down 50 to 70% at most stores. As the days go by, the discounts will increase. At Target.com, shoppers with a Target credit or debit card save an extra 20 percent off clearance online starting Dec. 25.
Clothes: Stores will offer some of the biggest discounts of the year, and many department stores will have coupons in store circulars and on mobile apps.
Electronics: Several electronic and tech items are on sale after Christmas, but if you’re looking for a brand name big-screen HDTV, you should wait until the end of January when 2017 models will be discounted to make room for 2018 models.
Storage and organization: The upcoming new year offers a chance to get organized with sales on storage bins.
Kelly Tyko is a columnist for Treasure Coast Newspapers and TCPalm.com, part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. This column reflects her opinion. Read her Bargainista tips at TCPalm.com/Bargainista and follow her on Twitter @KellyTyko. Sign up for her weekly newsletter at www.tcpalm.com/featured-newsletter/bargainistabest.