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Unwanted Holiday Gifts: Many Unhappy Returns
by Marjorie Dorfman

Neither a borrower, lender nor returner be.   
– The Dorfman Archives

Do you hang onto unwanted gifts because you can’t deal with the post holiday return scene? Do you need some help in "shopping self-assertion?" Well, read on for some tips, and may a smile be your umbrella; that is, unless you have to exchange it for something else!

Whenever I think about returning gifts, I am always reminded of a cartoon by Charles Addams depicting a mother and child standing on a department store line the day after Christmas. The little boy has no head and in one hand is carrying the remains of a "chemistry set." Although Mr. Addam’s art has always been a bit extreme, the perhaps not intended pun is quite clear. Heads can be easily lost as well as tempers among the monsters we all seem to become when forced to wait in long lines for attention and compensation.

What’s a person to do with that pair of iridescent gloves and the umbrella that says, "it’s raining" every time you open it? Well, first of all, decide to take both things back where they came from before they have a chance to reproduce. Don’t stuff them away in a drawer or closet and hope for the best. Return them as soon as possible AFTER the day AFTER Christmas. If there is one day on the calendar that is worse in terms of shopping frenzy than the day before Christmas, it is most assuredly the day after. Wait a few days, but not too long. This is a good policy, especially if whatever you wish to return seems to be moving or making strange noises.

To keep yourself sane do not attempt the "return adventure" with anyone under twelve years of age. Hire a babysitter and if they can’t deal with your children, bring them along. If children are over twelve, they can help carry packages. With just a bit of tape across their mouths, they can be endearing and even very helpful. Give yourself a break for finally not putting off till tomorrow what you can do today. Go to a movie, have an ice cream, take a bubble bath in public; do something rewarding, fulfilling and COMPLETELY SELF- INDULGENT!

Be aware of the phenomenon known as the gift receipt. It is special as it does not have the price on it, but they on the other side of the register know the truth about the original price. The receipt encodes the purchase cost and can be wrapped up with the gift. If it is not included inside the present, it may be best to ask whoever gave you the gift as tactfully as possible if they still have it. That way, you get store credit for exactly what the gift giver paid for it, not for what it is marked down to in post-holiday sales. Those who obtain gifts without receipts are not necessarily up the creek. Many stores have established year-round policies, which allow shoppers to return unwanted merchandise.

Refund and return signs are everywhere! By law, stores are required to post their policy on a sign or on receipts that are issued. Each store has the right to its own set of rules and therein lies the rub (or perhaps in this case, the receipt.) Some stores give refunds while others will only give store credit. Get the job done on off-hours, either very early in the morning or in the evening. Avoid high noon or you may find yourself in the same pickle as poor Gary Cooper: surrounded by impatient, unruly hostiles in some corral downtown! If you fear recognition or reprisals, wear a mask. Just be careful how you address sales people. You don’t want them to misunderstand and think you are holding them up!

Remember that old sign "plan ahead" with the "d" on the next line? Well, think about that when returning gifts. Know exactly where the store is and where you need to go. Call ahead of time and find out what the store’s return policies are and what you need to bring with you. Return the gift to the Customer Service counter before shopping around for an exchange. Bring receipts, tags and original wrapping. If you want to exchange a CD, video game, DVD or video tape, do not open it. If you remove the plastic wrapping, you may not be able to return it. If the new clothes are too small or you have food on your hands, don’t try them on. Don’t open toys or games and risk losing pieces. Larger items like televisions and computers may require specific procedures. Find out what they are before you arrive at the store. Take up major problems with major people. Don’t mess with a sales clerk when the person you really need is a manager. And be nice to all, remembering that old expression about catching more flies with honey than with vinegar. (Don’t bring either to the return desk. It’s easier to be polite.)

When exchanging a gift, be selective. Look for deals on things you can always use, like towels, gloves, socks, underwear, jeans and lipstick. Don’t buy junk. It isn’t fair to your shelves, drawers and closets who only want the best for you, and nothing, (I repeat nothing) is a bargain if you cannot use it! If you can’t find something you want, get a gift certificate or store credit. Finally, this whole fiasco can be avoided if you opt to donate your unwanted gift to charity. You never know. Someone else may really love those iridescent gloves or that novelty umbrella. It is very important, however, to pick a store as far away as possible so there’s no chance the unwanted item can find its way back to your house.

If you opt for a store credit, make sure to ask if it has to be used by a certain expiration date. If the date is far in the future, wait to find something you really want before buying. If you are really organized and perspicacious, you might use the credit to buy a gift for next Christmas. This way you are one up on your neighbors and can be the first one your block to have a Christmas gift all ready to go 12 months in advance. The advantage to this is dubious at best. The main problem with this school of thought is that if you don’t record your purchase when you put the gift away, next fall you will have no clue e as to why you purchased it. (This happened to me once. I not only bought a gift a year in advance, I wrapped it as well. I had no gift tags at the moment and figured I’d take care of that later. Come later and I could not remember what the gift was or for whom I had purchased it. I had to open it and rewrap it and even then, I still wasn’t sure. Write it down on a sticky note and put it away with the gift.)

In short, shop with your head and not above, underneath or without it. Return all gifts with receipts, tags, original wrapping and a little kindness. Remember that it really should be the thought that counts even though yours might all be censored if recorded while waiting on voluminous lines. For those of you who don’t return unwanted gifts because you would feel embarrassed if the gift giver came to your house and didn’t see the thing they gave you, I say, get over it. A gift, after all, is simply that: an item given from one person to another with love friendship and good will. By the way, do you know anyone who might want a cuckoo clock that sings "Come Back To Sorrento" every other hour?

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