Holiday Etiquette: Gift Return Tips

I hope your Black Friday shopping was a huge success without being a monumental headache. I personally avoid the flurry of hectic shoppers in lieu of writing my holiday greeting cards. It’s become an annual tradition and I actually look forward to the quiet time, fresh holiday cards, beautiful stamps and a hot mug of cocoa or cider. But, for those of you brave enough to venture out, you will most likely do the same when it comes time to make a return. I’m sharing Return Etiquette Tips below that include suggestions for both the shopper and the store employee. If you are wondering why I’m writing this post when I said I don’t like Black Friday, I DO like holiday shopping and the exchange or return is inevitable.

Gift Return Tips for the Store Employee:

  • During the holiday season, it’s helpful to always offer a gift receipt to include along with the store receipt. Even if the customer doesn’t think to ask, give him or her the option.
  • Point out the store return policy to shoppers.  Keep a highlighter handy at your register and circle the return policy while quickly directing the customer to the details.  It will save a great deal of confusion when it comes time to make the return.
  • If working the returns desk, maintain a pleasant and helpful demeanor.  Know that many customers who visit you with returns are not aware of the store policy.  In the midst of the holiday chaos, there is a good chance he or she won’t come prepared with at least one of the required items (receipt, credit card used, driver’s license, and so on). Be friendly as you talk with the customer about what is needed to process the return.  What about exceptions? Keep reading to my next tip…
  • Very important tip: Any time of year, there are always exceptions to the return policy and it would be a positive customer service attempt to help out the customer as often as possible. Especially when it comes to a longtime customer or valued card member, it may be well worth the time and effort to get a supervisor override to process the return.  You’ll keep a customer for life! I was just at one of my favorite stores this past week and I returned an item that was over 30 days. Recently they changed their return policy and it was not on my receipt. The woman begrudgingly made the return but couldn’t bit her tongue long enough to say, “Next time I won’t return it after 30 days!” Unfortunately for the store, there will no longer be a next time – regardless of how much I like to shop there. I also sent a letter to corporate and perhaps there won’t be a next time for her either.

Gift Return Tips for the Shopper:

  • Spend a few seconds reviewing the return policy before finalizing your purchase.  Many stores have an “all sales are final” return policy, especially when it comes to costume jewelry or holiday items. It’s better to be informed than surprised.
  • Ask for a gift receipt when you plan to gift an item.  Some stores won’t accept a return or exchange without it and he or she will end up getting the last mark down price after the holiday fire sale.
  • Gather all required materials and have them handy before stepping in the return line. Don’t wait until you step up to the counter before rifling around in your purse, checking side pockets, zip lock storage bags and makeup cases for stray receipts. Keep them all together (a personal issue I battle) and you will be less stressed when you encounter the tired, hungry sales associate.
  • Consider your timing.  The day after Christmas, Black Friday, and Christmas Eve are at the bottom of the list for days you’ll want to stand in the return line.  So is 10 minutes before the store closes and most weekends.  If you have a return to make, show up bright and early on a weekday.
  • Worst case scenario, you are stuck with a gift receipt for an in-store credit.  You’ll have fun money to buy those last few holiday gifts, or to buy a birthday or Valentine gift to keep yourself ahead of the game.

Happy Holidays,


Diane Gottsman

Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert and modern manners professional, sought out industry leader, television personality, accomplished speaker, Huffington Post blogger, author, and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. Diane is routinely quoted in national and international media including The New York Times, The BBC, CNN, Bloomberg Business Week, Kiplinger, Huffington Post Canada, U.S. News and World Report, and Forbes. She is the resident etiquette expert for two popular morning talk shows, SA Living and Good Day Austin. She has been seen on The TODAY Show, HLN Headline News, WGN Chicago, and CBS Sunday Morning. Her clients range from university students to Fortune 500 companies and her workshops cover topics ranging from tattoos in the workplace to technology at the dinner table and the proper use of social media.

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