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Smart holiday shopping starts with keeping receipts and knowing store policies

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Shoppers walk among illuminated Christmas decorations in a shopping mall at Berlin's Potsdamer Platz
Shoppers walk among illuminated Christmas decorations in a shopping mall at Berlin's Potsdamer Platz

MADISON, WI (WSAU) - ‘Tis the season for shopping. Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection advises us to shop smart, know retailer’s return policies, and keep those receipts.

Sandy Chalmers from the agency says the most important step is to learn the retailer’s return policies and take advantage of gift receipts. She says you really need to know how the seller deals with the things you bring back before buying that gift. “When people call us after the holidays, it’s really too late, so what we advise is that you understand what the store’s return, refund & exchange policies are before you buy.”

Gift receipts are a handy tool for making exchanges easy, especially if you need the original receipt for other reasons. “Make sure that you get a gift receipt or a receipt of any kind at the store, and that you include that in the present.”

Many stores have return policies that make it difficult or impossible to return certain types of purchases.... especially electronics, music, and software. Chalmers says, “If you receive an electronics item or video software as a gift, and you know you don’t want it, don’t open the box. Opening the box usually will bring an additional fee, and sometimes the retailer won’t even accept an open electronics box.” She says some retailers also have restocking fees for these items.

Several retailers have time limits for returns, so be sure to ask about return policies when hitting those early sales. “Some start the clock the day after Christmas. Some start the clock the day you bought the gift, so if you were hitting early sales in early November, that means you may not have much time to get back to the store and get that gift exchanged.”

Chalmers says shopping online is still possible, but you may pay a premium for last-minute overnight shipping. You also need to know what to do if the gift isn’t right, and who pays return shipping. She says the return shipping can add a lot to the cost. The Department also recommends checking to see if the online retailer has a brick-and-mortar store that you can pick up or return your purchase.

If you get to the checkout and the rung up price is not the lowest advertised price, speak up. Chalmers says the law favors the consumer to help avoid shady practices like bait-and-switch and price gouging.

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