December 11, 2000
Shopping wisely will ensure many happy returns
from the Better Business Bureau
This holiday season, consumers will shop at stores and in malls; place orders by mail, fax or phone; and, use their computer to purchase gifts.
The single best piece of advice for shoppers is to purchase from businesses and stores that you know to be reliable or whose record in the marketplace can be confirmed with a trusted organization.
For many happy returns the week after Christmas, consumers should obtain information about the merchant's refund and exchange policy before making a purchasing decision.
According to the BBB, it's a common misconception that a store is obligated to accept items for refund, exchange or credit. That is the case only when the item was defective or was misrepresented. It's perfectly legal for a store to have a "no return" or "final sale" policy and state laws vary as to whether merchants are required to disclose clearly what their return policies are.
Most stores want to do the right thing by their customers, so they voluntarily and prominently disclose their return and refund policies. If that information isn't provided in the store, the catalog or on the Web site, consumers should ask for it in writing. That way, there is no confusion among either party if the gift needs to be returned.
Individuals who abuse generous return policies extended by some stores are making it more difficult for all customers to return items. Returning items without a legitimate excuse may cause the cost of that merchandise to increase in the future. Some stores have already tightened return policies, and are imposing restocking fees or eliminating returns altogether.
Warranties or guarantees are different from store refund and exchange policies. Regardless of store policy, if you have a problem with something under the manufacturer's warranty or guarantee, the manufacturer should honor it.
The Better Business Bureau has two consumer education publications that may prove helpful to consumers in the start of the holiday shopping season: Refunds & Exchanges and Shopping Safely Online.
Both publications are available on the BBB's central Web site, www.bbb.org, under the publication section, or printed copies can be ordered by contacting your local BBB at 4800 South 188th Street, Suite 222, Sea Tac, WA 98188, or from their Web site at www.thebbb.org. Consumers can also call the BBB Consumer Hotline at (206) 431-2222.