Returns are rarely fun or convenient, especially in the rush after the holidays. Insider Intelligence predicts that US retail returns will total over $625 billion this year, and over half of small to medium retail businesses anticipate they will receive more returns this year than in 2022.

Stores have unique return policies and often adjust them for the holiday season. Many retailers are also adopting new policies as more consumers opt to shop for gifts online, such as “returnless” or “keep it” policies for items whose return costs exceed their value.

While we can’t shorten the lines at the store for you, BBB recommends you check the store’s policies before you buy or return a gift to reduce the stress of holiday returns. It’s better to ask about the policy than to find out too late that you assumed incorrectly.

BBB’s tips for hassle-free returns:

• Ask about the return policy before you buy. This is the best way to prevent surprise return issues. If you’re shopping at a brick-and-mortar location, ask if you can return or exchange an item for a cash refund or store credit. You should also verify the time limit for returns or exchanges – some stores have extended return periods for the holidays, while seasonal stores might have limited post-holiday hours.

• Remember that online returns might have different policies. You can typically find a return policy on the seller’s website. Find out whether the store will deduct shipping costs or restocking fees from the price of your returned item. Some online retailers offer a “keep it” policy, where you receive a refund but don’t ship the item back to the retailer.

• Ask for a gift receipt and include it with the gift. Don’t remove items from their boxes before wrapping – the original packaging may be required for a return. Leave tags on clothing. If you remove or cross out the price on the tag, try to leave the item number or bar code visible so the store can process the return.

• Keep your own receipt. Even if you include the gift receipt with the gift, it’s still wise to keep a copy of your own original receipt in case the gift recipient runs into issues with their return.

• Don’t assume that regular return policies apply to sale or clearance items. Stores often consider sale or clearance items to be final sale, so ask before buying.

• Ask about restocking fees. Some stores charge a restocking or “open box” fee for returns of electronic products or large-ticket items. A restocking fee can be as high as 25 percent of the purchase price. 

• Time returns wisely. Return lines can be long the day after Christmas, but don’t wait too long to return items. Pick a time when the store is unlikely to be crowded. Be considerate to customer service clerks. If you are a regular customer or have a store credit account, politely mention that as you discuss return options – stores are usually willing to accommodate loyal customers.