Returning a gift during the holidays? What to know before you do

Click to play video: 'What Canadians should know about returning a gift this holiday season'
What Canadians should know about returning a gift this holiday season
WATCH: What Canadians should know about returning a gift this holiday season – Dec 25, 2023

As the holiday season continues, there are some tips to keep in mind whether you’re bargain-hunting this Boxing Day or planning to return something you received.

According to a Retail Council of Canada survey, Canadians are expected to spend $898 on average on holiday gifts this year, a rise from $782 in 2022. But while shoppers may spend more, about 88 per cent said they’re going to be more “vigilant” in seeking value.

In November polling conducted exclusively for Global News, nearly 80 per cent of Canadians said inflation and rising interest rates have had a “significant” impact on their holiday budgets.

Rob Domagala, a member of the founding team of ReturnBear, an e-commerce returns platform, told Global News that if people are doing more shopping for Boxing Day, they should remember they are in control of their wallets.

Story continues below advertisement

“So to avoid a little bit of that buyer’s remorse when you’re the one purchasing for yourself, get to know the brands, get to know the product, make sure you really want it,” he said.

After you’ve bought an item, various reasons such as a size issue or even financial aspects could prompt a need to get that money back.

Retail advisor David Ian Gray of Dig360 notes that when it comes to why shoppers return items, it’s not always because of a bad fit or dislike of the product. Amid a tougher economic climate, finances can also come into play.

Click to play video: 'Consumer Matters: Holiday gift exchange 101'
Consumer Matters: Holiday gift exchange 101

“We incrementally see a bit of a bump in terms of people who may have buyer’s remorse,” he told Global News in an interview. “They’re looking at their credit card and the return might be a fine product but they’re just thinking, ‘Maybe I should send it back.'”

Story continues below advertisement

“As a gift recipient, there are times where they’re also under intense cash crunch and it might behoove them to — even though they appreciate the item — if it’s for a refund, that might be something they may do.”

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

It’s why retail analysts and commerce experts say to be aware of the various return policies that retailers have as the length of time you have can differ.

“With Boxing Day shopping following holiday gift giving, return windows are going to change, and not all brands will have the same window,” Domagala said. “Some brands will extend them and you’ll have a lot of time to consider your purchase. Other brands won’t change them.

Even if you can return the gift, however, you may not necessarily get your money back, instead receiving a gift card or in-store credit.

Retail analyst Bruce Winder said it’s why shoppers should be aware of what restrictions the various companies have, which can range from the type of compensation you can get to the return window.

Click to play video: 'Being conscious during your holiday shopping'
Being conscious during your holiday shopping

“I think the key message here is buyer beware and receiver beware,” he said. “Just make sure if you’re a buyer, you understand exactly what the return policies are for the person you’re buying the gear for. And if you are a receiver of a gift, if you don’t like it, understand what the policies are.”

Story continues below advertisement

The return could cost you

Consumers should also be aware, especially in the case of online shopping, that they could face a fee when returning an item by shipping it back.

Gray said the big cause for this is as online sales continue to grow, retailers have seen higher return rates than when purchases are made at a brick-and-mortar store. He notes part of this is the trend of people buying multiples of an item, such as two or three different sizes to find the one that works, then returning the others.

“The retail industry has created an expectation that our homes can be like a change room,” Gray told Global News, adding that many consumers expect to “be able to ship it back for free, for an exchange or a refund.”

“But what we’re also seeing is the retailers are starting to add costs to that equation and it’s a frustration.” 

Story continues below advertisement

Sometimes this can mean a customer could face a “restocking fee,” in which the customer is charged a small sum for returning the item — a tool often used to discourage returns.

When it comes down to what you can return, advisors point to checking the retailers’ websites for items that can or cannot be sent back.

There are some common items that consumers should not expect to be able to return, including some apparel such as intimate items and swimwear, and opened beauty products and fragrances. Final sale items are also often non-returnable, so if you’re hoping to get that deal but then decide you don’t want it anymore, it’s likely you’re stuck with it.

Some companies like Abercrombie and Fitch, Uniqlo and H&M started charging for online returns earlier this year, such as $9.90 at Uniqlo, which is deducted from the full refund offered.

For Amazon, the type of refund or credit will depend on how the gift was purchased and returned, but you have to sign up for an account with the online retailer to do so.

Meanwhile, Walmart Canada allows for a fair number of products to be returned within 90 days, even swimwear or final sale items, though some, like prepaid phones or appliances, limit the days to 14 or 30 days, respectively. However, during the holidays, it notes items with a return period of 30 days can be returned until Jan. 24, while those with a 14-day period are eligible for a return until Jan. 8.

Story continues below advertisement

If you do have non-returnable items, Domagala said depending on the product it doesn’t hurt to think about recycling or rehoming them.

“We always encourage like recycling of those materials or sharing, passing along of those items to friends, colleagues or those who might benefit from them or need them as opposed to just throwing stuff in the garbage,” he said.

There are other options as well, such as online marketplaces like Facebook or Poshmark.

Winder, however, cautions not to expect the same financial return you might get at a store.

“So there’s a marketplace to move them, but you probably won’t get as much money as if you went back to the store,” he said.

Sponsored content