How to redeem even the worst holiday gifts

By Alexandra Severini, personal finance writer

We’ve all been there; everyone gathered cozily around the tree, donned in Snuggies and sleepy smiles. It’s your turn to open a gift and after thoughtfully assessing the lot, you find one wrapped just right and look at that, your name is on it, too. Excitedly you bring it back to your designated seat in the living room where you admire it and begin to unwrap - careful not to open it too hastily; you want to savor the moment, certain that this gift will be “the gift.” All eyes are on you as you remove the last of the paper and lift the box top. All it takes is one glance and you realize it’s not at all for what you had hoped. Abruptly your mission changes. You have to act quickly to disguise disappointment. So with grace you raise your gift, show it off, and quickly return it to its packaging. Well done, you’ve handled the situation perfectly. Now, comes the task of figuring out what to do with it...

Have you ever wondered why the gift that someone was so excited to give you is not at all exciting to receive? Well, according to a study published by the Current Directions in Psychological Science, there is actual science behind that dissonance. Their research article posits that, “gift givers tend to focus on the moment of exchange when selecting a gift, whereas gift recipients are more focused on the long-term utility of practical attributes of the gift.”

That might explain why despite leaving magazine tear outs around the house for a new handheld vacuum you ended up with a leather-bound journal and artisanal olive oils.

So, now that you’re in this unfortunate-yet-unsurprising predicament, let’s discuss your options for making lemonade out of these holiday lemons.

Donate Them

Feeling especially generous? It’s an honorable gesture to take your unwanted gifts and donate them to those who could really use them. Did you unwrap a sweater you know you’ll never wear? Donate it to a local shelter, Salvation Army, or Goodwill. Given kitchen accessories you won’t use? Head to Habitat for Humanity to find families who’ve recently moved into a Habitat home in your area. Many could benefit from household items. If you’re uncertain of where you can donate your particular item, hang onto it until you come across a worthy cause. Most anything you’ve been given (even certain DIY gifts) will likely have a worthwhile application for someone else. And don’t forget, most donations entitle you to a tax deduction come April.

Sell Them

These days the number of sites and apps available that allow you to unload unwanted items and make a buck doing it, is plentiful. Creating most profiles is quick, easy, and free. Simply upload a couple photos of your product, create a short description for each, and set a desired listing price. Here’s a collection of our favorite reselling sites:

  • eBay – an oldie but a goodie, eBay offers excellent searchability and exposure for product, making it a virtually painless process to get your item sold.
  • Tradesy – dubbed by Good Morning America as “eBay and Amazon’s newest neighbor”, Tradesy gives its customers accessibility and ease in the process of selling new and gently used clothing and fashion accessories.
  • Poshmark – much like Tradesy, Poshmark offers a simple platform for selling fashion-specific items. They boast that you can list an item for sale in 60 seconds or less!
  • LetGo – if you test-drive your gift and ultimately decide it’s not for you, let it go. LetGo offers a simplified, speedy option for selling secondhand goods. From electronics and games to clothing, cars, and home décor, there’s next to nothing you can’t list for sale.

*Suffering from seller’s remorse or guilt for making money off of someone else’s inadvertent mis-gift? Commit to donating the money you earn from the sale of your gift to a charitable cause.

Regift Them

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” Cliché as it may be, odds are that just because you don’t love your gift doesn’t mean that someone else won’t. Was the gift you were given a duplicate of something you already have, the wrong size, or a style that simply doesn’t flatter you? Start a short list of the people in your life who would appreciate it most. Upcoming nuptials, birthdays, or anniversaries are the perfect opportunity to wrap it back up and give it away. Just make sure that whoever gave it to you won’t be present for the gift’s second unveiling!

Return Them

According to the National Retail Federation, approximately 8% of retail sales are returned each year with 20% of returns occurring during the holiday season. This stat proves one very comforting and resounding point, that when it comes to receiving a less-than-appealing holiday gift, you most definitely aren’t alone. So, if you opt to return or exchange your present this year, the following tips offer helpful instruction and insight for the process.

Be Prepared & Flexible

Lifestyle Expert Bahar Takhtehchian recommends checking each store’s return policies online before taking time out of your day to travel to any individual location. You can also call customer service to find out the specifics about returns and exchanges. If a full refund isn’t available, be prepared to ask for store credit or an exchange of equal value. It’s possible that you won’t be granted credit but it’s worth asking for. Your best chance of securing a successful return is to bring the item back in its original packaging and if you have a gift receipt, even better. Lastly, try to complete all same-store returns at one time instead of making multiple trips and asking for exceptions multiple times.

Anticipate Fraud Protection Measures

Stores like TJ Maxx, Victoria’s Secret, and The Home Depot have instituted refund verification systems to help curb potential fraud by keeping records of the number of times a single person attempts to make a return. So, while we know you’re simply trying to return an unwanted holiday item, not take advantage of the system, if you’re returning merchandise be sure to bring along some form of government-issued identification - like your driver's license or passport - because they’ll likely ask for it.

No Receipt? No Problem.

For many of us, the option of returning a gift with a gift receipt is no option at all. If that’s the case, it never hurts to follow the advice outlined in the “Be Prepared & Flexible” section because store credit might be your best bet. If you’re returning an item to a smaller, local store, be sure to give the first and last name of the person who gifted you the item. Odds are, a small business will have records of recent purchases by customer name – especially if the item was paid for with a card. This will help validate your claim by putting a timestamp on how long the item has been out-of-store and linking the purchase back to a specific person all the while offering a greater probability that you’ll receive your desired return. Many major retailers don’t even require receipts – more on that below…

Stores with the best return policies

Despite rampant return fraud (especially during the holidays) many stores still strive to make their customers’ return experience a seamless and stress-free one. So, if any of your gifts came from the following stores, fret not, you shouldn’t have any trouble returning your unwanted items.

  • Costco – There’s no time limit and no receipt required to receive a full refund from this bulk retailer. The only exception is for electronics in which case customers have a 90-day window to return merchandise. Members will be reimbursed in the form of payment they used to pay for their product and nonmembers typically receive cash or store gift cards.
  • The Home Depot – If you don’t have a physical receipt but the item you’re returning was purchased within the last 90 days by credit, debit card or check, the receipt can be tracked down in The Home Depot system and you’ll be issued a store credit.
  • Kohl’s – There’s no receipt required to exchange your item, receive a store credit, or get a corporate refund in the form of a check sent to you. Also, their holiday return policy stipulates that any premium electronics purchased between Nov. 1 and Dec. 25, 2016 can be returned up until Jan. 31, 2017 with original packaging and a valid receipt or account look-up.
  • Lands’ End – Lands’ End’s policy for U.S. retail returns is that they are guaranteed, period. In fact, they state, “If you’re not satisfied with any item, simply return it to us at any time for an exchange or refund of its purchase price.”
  • Nordstrom – This fashion retailer is famous for their return policy, which states that they don’t have a return policy. What does that mean? It means that they stand behind their product and trust their customers. They empower their employees to use good judgment when assessing return requests and insist that each customer receive the same level of attention whether they come in with a receipt, a gift receipt, or without any receipt at all. And, did we mention that they offer free return shipping for all online orders? Not bad.
  • Target – The national retailer is notorious for excellent customer service and that’s no exception when it comes to their return policy. For anything purchased via credit, debit, gift card, or check, the store can refund the full amount without a receipt (within a certain number of days depending on product type). Their holiday return policy is where they really shine. While consumer electronics typically have a 30-day return window, any holiday electronic purchases bought between Nov. 1 and Dec. 25 are exempt from the 30-day rule until Dec. 26 at which point the clock starts. This way, customers can buy their gifts before the holiday shopping rush and it gives recipients ample time to determine whether they’ll keep or return their gift.
  • TJ Maxx – There’s no receipt required and you’ll receive store credit for your returned items.
  • Walmart – There’s no receipt required and you can receive a cash refund for any purchase under $25, a gift card for any purchase over $25, or an even exchange for the product.
  • – Not only does offer free shipping for all returns, it also gives its customers up to a year to return their merchandise for a full refund. They’ve also created a policy they dub “Advanced Exchange” where a customer can order an item in a different size or color and it will be sent free of charge. The only requirement is that the first item be sent back within 2 weeks.

Deciding what to do with an unwanted gift can, at times, feel like a superfluous burden. But, heed our advice and you’ll find that even the most unwelcome of gifts can be redeemed.

Written on December 30, 2016

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