Etiquette tips for returning Christmas gifts

Stephanie Faris

Returning gifts can be awkward, but there are a few things you can do without seeming rude.

Your loved ones aren't mind readers. Unless you handed out a detailed list of everything you want for Christmas--complete with links to buy them online--you're eventually going to receive a gift you'll want to return.

But when someone has taken the time to buy you a gift, wrap it, and give it to you, how do you gracefully ask for the receipt to return it? The truth is, there's no easy way to disclose you didn't like a gift, especially if it was handpicked by the person who gave it.

However, you do have a few options, and those options could help you out of an otherwise awkward situation.

Search for a gift receipt

A conscientious gifter will include a receipt with the gift. The majority of retailers now offer gift receipts, which detail the purchase and include a barcode but leave off the price paid. Provided you arrive at the store as soon as possible after the holiday season, you should be able to exchange the purchase for either another item or a gift card toward a future purchase.

As you're buying and wrapping gifts each year, try to be a helpful giver on your end as well and provide a gift receipt. If you've already wrapped your gifts, search for your receipts and put them in an envelope that you can discreetly hand to the recipient after the gift has been opened.

Check if receiptless returns are accepted

If there's no receipt, all hope may not be lost. Some stores accept returns or exchanges without receipts, especially if price tags are still attached. Stores like Walmart and Target will accept returns without a receipt. Quite a few other stores will let you bring back an item for an exchange, but they'll only give you the lowest price that item has sold for in a designated time frame.

Figuring out where the item was purchased is the hard part. If the item came in a store-branded box, there's a fairly decent chance that's where it was purchased. But whether it did or not, you can probably Google the brand name on the item. In some cases, a brand is only sold by one national retail chain. No Boundaries and Great Value are Walmart's brands, for example, while you'll find Xhilaration only at Target. If it's something sold at numerous stores, it can't hurt to take it in to one or two places near where the gifter lives and ask if it was purchased there.

Make sure it's unworkable

The truth is, if someone gave you a gift from the heart, it's important to ask yourself if it's worth the extra money to return it. It depends on the gift, of course, but if it's something worth only a few dollars, it may not be worth the risk of hurting the gifter's feelings. It might be wise to hold onto it for a few days and be sure you really can't use it before trying to obtain a receipt.

If you're willing to take a bit of a risk, consider storing the item safely in a closet for later. You may have a niece who can wear that too-small sweater. Perhaps likeliest is that you'll have an opportunity to re-gift it, especially if you might be invited to a White Elephant party, where everyone is encouraged to bring past gifts they don't want.

Donate or sell it

If you don't have a receipt and you can't exchange the item, perhaps the best thing to do is donate it to a charity. You'll get a tax deduction, along with the satisfaction of knowing your item went to someone who will use it. Ask around to determine if any of your coworkers or friends know someone who might be suffering hard times. Chances are, you'll find somewhere to send your item.

Of course, you can always sell the item and use the proceeds to buy something you want. Sites like eBay and Facebook Marketplace can quickly connect you with eager buyers who have money to spend. Just be careful not to post the item in such a way that the gifter might stumble upon it. On Facebook, sometimes the items placed for sale are displayed to a person's friends.

Be honest

It may seem the hardest thing to do, but usually the best course of action is to be honest. If the item didn't fit, tell the gifter. You can still word it in a way that will show your appreciation. For instance, "Thank you so much for the sweater. I really liked it, but it's a bit too small. Would you mind if I exchanged it?" The person probably would prefer you have something usable, anyway.


Be aware that if you say you want to exchange the item for a different size or color, you might eventually be busted on that. If the giver later asks about it, you won't have it on hand. This is where honesty is usually the best policy.


Stephanie Faris is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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