7. The Credit Card Exception — Most credit card merchant agreements require refunds within 30 days if you have a store receipt. A merchant's "all sales are final" sign likely doesn't count if the gift was paid for with a credit card. Still, don't play lawyer, play nice. Just remind the retailer of their obligation as a credit card merchant and point out it would be much simpler for them to just make the refund than for you to file a challenge with your credit card company. Your goal is to convince the merchant that it may be much easier and less time consuming for her to just give you a store credit than to hassle the problem with their merchant bank. (NOTE: To sweeten the deal, you can also remind her that you are likely to end up spending more than the credit anyway.)
8. Meet Them in the Middle — You want your money back. The merchant wants to keep the sale. On the surface, it's an irreconcilable situation. A store credit may be an acceptable compromise for both of you. While it might not be as rewarding as cold hard cash, you might be able to get some real value out of that paisley necktie.
9. Stand Your Ground — While I was writing my book, Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid For, a gray-haired spitfire of a woman told me a holiday return horror story. The woman had received a sweater as a holiday gift, but it had a split seam. The sweater had been purchased at a major department store and even included the store label in the collar. However, a few days after Christmas, when the woman tried to return the item without a receipt, the customer service agent asked for proof it had been purchased at their store. "It's got your label," said the woman. "We still need a receipt," said the clerk. "That's our policy." The woman replied with the best consumer response I've ever heard, "Your internal policy decisions have nothing to do with my customer service expectations." She politely held her ground. Eventually the store manager showed up and she was given a refund. When they say, "That's our policy," don't walk away. That phrase is often waved around like a magic wand to make customers disappear. Play nice; just don't play by their rules. Don't leave. Keep your cool and keep asking for the "boss." You might be surprised how quickly they change their tune.
My final tip is a reminder that, for the most part, the people you'll be dealing with didn't make the policies. There's no benefit in getting mad at them or treating them disrespectfully. In fact, while getting angry might make you feel better, it is likely to decrease your chances of a successful refund or return.
Have a complaint about customer service? Write to Ron.
Also of interest: When free trials aren't free. >>
This story was last updated October 2011.