Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Many Happy Returns

Contrary to popular belief, the holiday shopping season is far from over, for me the fun has just begun. Now that all the gifts are unwrapped, I am left with a pile of things not on Santas list leading to a post holiday moral dilemma. What is the proper etiquette for returning gifts? Certain rules make returning acceptable, usually involving an exchange rather than a return. A good rule of thumb is trading for size, fit or even color. However, after receiving three identical hooded sweatshirts embroidered with my initial, this rule would need review. These three gifts led me to a holiday epiphany, my name is Mary and I return gifts that I do not need.
All three gifts were sent along with a gift receipt or as I like to call it the gift givers get out of jail free card. The gift receipt which must have been created by a non committal shopper not only assuages the guilt of the receiver but also creates credibility for the gift giver. It also allows the person returning the gift to receive full purchase price. Without the gift receipt, the retailer will give the current price of the item which might be considerably less.
When receiving the second of the hooded sweatshirts, I was told there is a gift receipt if it does not work out, for some reason. Having a sweatshirt, not work out seemed like a strong opinion for active wear. Even so, the idea of non committal gift giving was completely liberating. It was as if I was granted permission for rejecting a gift that was carefully chosen with me in mind.
But more than being able to return the gifts without guilt, I began to wonder how the gifts were chosen to begin with. Like most people I know, the holiday gift giving list includes familiar friends, family and coworkers, most of which are bought for year in and year out. The pressure to come up with a unique gift on an annual basis can be daunting. Many people have come to rely on the gift card as a way to avoid this pressure. Others that I know will keep these gifts on what they affectionately refer to as the regift pile, a compilation of gifts that might be repurposed for another occasion. I believe this practice will ultimately lead to an endless chain of one gift being passed back and forth over and over until we ultimately receive what we started with. The Panettone cake is a likely candidate that seems to be making its way around our holiday households. So why not break the circle by bringing the gift back to the source? I relish this time of year to take advantage of post holiday shopping with a pile of credit in my pocket. Viva the gift receipt!
Now, while I am happy to head off to the store to make returns, there is a sensitivity issue that exists when about to haul off your well intended friends gifts to the store. Certainly you will have to account for the uncomfortable conversations that might come up when your husbands boss asks how you like the reindeer topped wine carafe that she bought you last year. Thanking her for the thoughtful gift and letting her know that the gift was put to good use is the best way out of this sticky situation. As for other returns, I usually head them off at the pass and tell them if something did not fit or if it needed to be exchanged. This type of tactful disclosure is always appreciated.
And for a return free holiday in the future, I would recommend a few guidelines that will help to minimize returns:
1. Get ahead of holiday shopping by buying gifts for friends and family when you see them, instead of waiting till the last minute
2. Make your intentions clear to those you plan to exchange with and be candid with those you are not exchanging with
3. Try a holiday grab bag for families where each person chooses one name. Thanksgiving can be a great time to do this.
4. Always ask retailers about return policies before purchasing, so if the gift needs to be exchanged, the process will be easier
5. Include a gift receipt to make returns hassle-free


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