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These 9 tips can help make holiday gift exchanges easier

En español | While most people look forward to the holidays as times of joy and gift exchanging, consumer advocates like myself become concerned about what happens after the packages are unwrapped.

See also: The 7 things you should always say to customer service.

How successful will you be with the attempted exchanges, returns and refunds? You see, sometime between Santa's chimney excursion and the final whistle of the holiday football games, Christmas cheer can evolve into gift-return panic. So that you can get what you wish for after the big day — Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Solstice — here's my nine-point plan for successful holiday gift returns.

1.    E-Gifting with Love — One of the biggest changes in gift giving in the last few years has been the ability to send someone an e-gift: an e-book, downloadable music or game. If you've received one of these items, think before you download, open, use or install — because once you've activated or accessed the gift, it's yours to keep. Therefore, after you've smiled and thank you'd — do nothing. Later on, go to the website's customer service page for instructions on how to exchange the gift for something that better suits your taste. If they don't have anything you would want for yourself, you can likely get an online credit for the purchase of a future gift for someone else.

disillusiond woman at christmas with lots of wrapped gifts

Remember to put the gift receipt in the box before you wrap it. — Photo by George Doyle/Getty Images

2.    Keep the Receipts and the Box — If your gift giver was thoughtful enough to include a gift receipt, file it away in an envelope labeled "Gift Receipts" with the date. Save the bag or box too — surprisingly, sometimes the receipt may not be enough and a store bag helps make the case that Aunt Flo really did buy it at their store. I know it sounds a bit much, but come next summer when that new camera simply won't snap, you'll be better prepared to make your case to the refund rep. (NOTE: When you give a gift, be kind to the recipients by including gift receipts.)

3.    Get the Awful Ancestry — OK, so your relatives aren't organized enough to include gift receipts. (Sounds like you're part of my family.) There's still hope for ensuring a refund for an unwanted gift, but you're going to have to do a little acting. When there's not a gift receipt in the box, practice this line: "It's beautiful, where did you get it?" (Even if it isn't.) Later, when everyone else is sagging on the sofa watching bowl games, get on the Internet, research the item and sale price. Print out the page and store it with the gift receipts. While not as good as a gift receipt in guaranteeing a refund, this ad hoc documentation can be a great help in securing a store credit.

Next: Avoid the morning after, then "sell" the return. >>

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