VOL. 112 | NO. 233 | Monday, December 21, 1998
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
Keep the receipt
Knowing a stores return policy before a purchase is made
and hanging on to the sales ticket can save shoppers headaches
By SUZANNE THOMPSON
The Daily News
If theres a shopping day that rivals the day after Thanksgiving in terms of customer volume, it surely must be the day after Christmas, when scads of people rush to return or exchange their gifts.
Right after Christmas, the number of complaints to the Better Business Bureau skyrockets, with consumers calling to say theyve gotten stuck with something they dont really want or that doesnt fit, said president John Myers.
While there is no state law that requires stores to have a return policy, if they do have one, it should be clearly posted, said Mark Williams, director of the Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs in Nashville.
It pays for consumers to pay attention to these return policies and know what they are before a purchase is made, Myers said.
Some national retailers, such as Wal-Mart and Target, have standard return policies and can usually easily tell if a product came from their stores, he said.
Smaller stores, especially mom-and-pop-type operations with small inventories, sometimes make stricter return policies because refunded merchandise means money out of their pockets, Williams said.
At Claires, an accessory store in Oak Court Mall, customers must have a receipt to return merchandise, said assistant manager Sommer Murad
No returns are allowed on certain items the shop sells, such as nose rings, navel rings or ear cuffs, she said.
Items that have not been used may be exchanged for a store credit, but without the receipt, no cash is given, Murad said.
Bath and Body Works store at Oak Court Mall has a fairly strict return policy, said manager Susanna Wright.
If a purchase was made by check, even if the product is returned after the check has cleared the bank, only store merchandise is available.
People who write checks can only get a cash refund the same day the purchase was made, she said.
"We try to be reasonable, but we draw the line to a certain extent," Wright said.
She said all their products carry the Bath and Body Works brand name, so it is easy to tell if customers are trying to return something that did not come from that store.
Other stores, such as James Davis and Davis-Kidd Booksellers Inc., will accept merchandise that was not purchased there if they carry the item in stock or one of their distributors carries the product.
For example, if a customer tries to return a hard back copy of a book Davis Kidd sells only in paper back, the store still would take the book back, said assistant manager Scott Graves.
"In that case, I would take it back because I know I can sell it," he said.
As long as the book is one the store carries, and its in good condition, he said the store will issue a credit but will not give cash refunds without a receipt.
That policy thwarts the efforts of shoplifters who try to convert their ill-gotten gains into cash, said Linda Williams, manager at Davis-Kidd.
"We dont want to play into that, for ourselves and other merchants," she said.
But, because the goal is customer service, retailers walk a fine line between politeness and policy.
The staff tries to make things easier for the customers because when they have a good experience, theyre more likely to return, Williams said.
Toward the goal of creating return customers, James Davis tries to be as accommodating as possible to clients, said general manager Monte Stewart.
Sometimes that means taking back an item that clearly was not purchased there, he said.
If customers come in with items they purchased in another city, James Davis carries the item and the customer is forthcoming about making the exchange, the store is glad to oblige, Stewart said.
"We dont like our customers to get stuck with anything," he said.
Another good reason to hang onto receipts is because if the item was purchased at full price and has since gone on sale, without a cash ticket, the store can issue credit for the sale price only, Stewart said.
But, even in that case, there is some leeway, he said.
He said its easy to determine when an item went on sale and if something went on sale right before Christmas, he will try to give the patron the benefit of the doubt.
Many retailers have a time limit for accepting returned merchandise.
For example, the Paul Harris store at Oak Court will accept merchandise for 60 days without the receipt, said manager Cassandra Gray.
The BBBs Myers said the clock should start running on a specific period for return the day the gift is given, not necessarily the date the item was purchased.
However, some stores are fairly flexible about that issue.
"Weve taken Christmas gifts back in July,'' Stewart said. ``We dont like to, but we have."