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Smart Buying

5 Reasons Your Gift Will Be Returned

Avoid wasting money on items your friends and family will take back to the store, give away or shove in the back of a closet.

When I was 10, I had my heart set on a sleek, silver radio/cassette player (a.k.a. jam box). I showed it to my dad every time we went to the mall and told him that was what I wanted for Christmas. But on Christmas day when I unwrapped my gift from him, my heart sank. He bought me a bulky black jam box that looked nothing like the one I wanted.

 

I didn’t even try to hide my disappointment. (Yes, I feel bad about it now, but I was just a little girl at the time.) He said he thought I would like the one he bought better. Really? I would have taken it back to the store to exchange it if I could have.

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The fact is, more than 50% of people choose to give a gift that will surprise the recipient rather than give a gift the recipient has asked for, according to a survey by deal and coupon site RetailMeNot. That’s a big reason people don’t like the gifts they receive, says Trae Bodge, senior editor of RetailMeNot.

What happens to those gifts? They are returned to the store, shoved in the back of a closet, given to someone else the next year or shared on social media sites as “the world’s worst gift.” To avoid this, be aware of the reasons why the gift you give could meet with any of these fates.

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It is not the recipient’s taste. Just because you like a particular fragrance or piece of jewelry doesn’t mean your gift recipients will. The same goes for music, books and home décor. Unless you know someone really well or she’s pointed out something she wants, there’s a good chance that gifts of this sort won’t match that person’s style and will be returned. If you’re buying for someone you don’t know well, the best bet is to buy a gift card, says Offers.com Vice President Howard Schaffer. Bodge recommends gift cards from multi-category retailers such as Amazon.com, Target or Walmart, gas gift cards, or, for teens, iTunes gift cards.

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It is the wrong size. An easy way to guarantee that people will return your gifts is to give them something that doesn’t fit. So you shouldn’t buy clothing for anyone except your kids or spouse because you’ll likely get the wrong size, Schaffer says. “Then a thoughtful gift will turn into an awkward situation,” he says.

It will never be used. Gadgets, tchotchkes and desk accessories might seem like fun gifts, but you should ask yourself before buying whether the recipient will actually use any of these items. Chances are this sort of gift will be re-gifted, returned or donated to Goodwill. Rather than try to guess what someone wants, Bodge recommends asking the person what he or she would like.

It is too personal. It’s okay to give your sweetie lingerie. But it’s not okay to give your colleagues, acquaintances or family members other than your spouse silk boxer shorts. My husband actually received this much-too-personal item from a friend once. We both were puzzled why his friend gave such an awkward gift. So it’s always wise to avoid giving something that will make the recipient uncomfortable. If you want to give something personal, Bodge recommends photo-related gifts, such as a photo book of the recipient’s friends or family (not a big picture of you).

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It suggests that you think the recipient should change something about him or herself. Maybe you have an exercise video you really like and think your friend might like it, too. Bad idea. Bodge says that anything weight-loss related sends the wrong message to the recipient – even if you don’t think the person needs to lose weight. Also avoid self-help books, grooming items or anything that hints that the recipient should use it to improve his appearance or personality.

Even if you avoid giving gifts of this sort, there’s still a chance that someone will want to return or exchange one of your presents. For this reason, Schaffer warns against buying from stores or Web sites that have stingy return policies (see Retailers With Generous Return Policies). And be sure to include a gift receipt with your gifts. “If they are going to return your gift, at least you can make it easy on them,” Schaffer says.

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