6 Simple Tips for Returning or Exchanging Gifts

Say “thank you” now, return the gift later.
Say “thank you” now, return the gift later. / SDI Productions/Getty Images

We’re not here to judge anyone. Sometimes, a gift and the person who’s receiving it just aren’t a great match for one another. Maybe that t-shirt is a size too small. Maybe that chair looks great, but it won’t fit anywhere in your apartment. Or perhaps you already own a copy of that particular book.

There are many perfectly valid reasons for wanting to either exchange a present or return it whole-hog. Whatever the case may be, these simple tips should help point you in the right direction.

1. Having the gift receipt never hurts (but that’s not always essential).

gift receipt on a table. Selective focus on the word "Gift Receipt".
Don’t panic if you don’t have a gift receipt. / Ceneri/E+/Getty Images

When presenting someone with a gift, is it tacky or thoughtful to include the physical receipt or packing slip? There’s no definitive answer to that question—but being able to show those documents does tend to make the exchange/return process a lot easier.

Even so, certain stores might still be able to help you out if you’re coming at them sans receipt (or sans slip). Costco, for instance, can move forward with some exchanges or refunds if the only datapoint at your disposal is the membership number of the person who gave you the original gift.

2. In some scenarios, you might have to settle for a store gift card.

illustration of someone handing someone a gift card
A gift card may have to do. / tommy/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

This is something to bear in mind when you’re dealing with Amazon. “Gift recipients aren’t eligible for instant refunds,” notes the company’s website. “If you’re the gift recipient, we’ll process your refund as an Amazon.com Gift Card after we receive your return.”

On the other hand, gift givers usually have the option to refund the money to their “original payment method.”

3. Amazon is going to want your 17-digit order number.

A woman in a bright yellow jacket is sitting in front of a laptop in emotional tension.
Yes, going through all these steps can be frustrating. / Ekaterina Goncharova/Moment/Getty Images

Whoever bought the gift item in the first place should have gotten a packing slip or “digital gift receipt,” which is also called the “Order ID.”

But let’s assume the purchaser has somehow lost this information. In that case, their next move should be to try and find the item’s tracking number—and then get in touch with the company. “If you cannot locate the order ID or tracking number, the person who purchased the gift will need to contact us directly,” Amazon explains.

4. There may be time—and space—limits on returning your gift.

image of a woman carrying several boxes
A trip to the store may be in order. / d3sign/Moment/Getty Images

According to the Home Depot website, “Most new, unopened merchandise sold by The Home Depot can be returned within 90 days of purchase.” A lot of the big chain stores have similar policies, including Target and Walmart.

Another thing to note: Some companies (like Macy’s) insist that items purchased in a physical store can only be returned at that location.

5. A given store may have different return/exchange policies for different items.

Woman taking call in call center
When it doubt, ask customer service. / Richard Drury/DigitalVision/Getty Images

When possible, it’s always a good idea to pull up the merchant’s official website and read the fine print. Target will let you exchange airbeds (for a “similar item”), but not return them. You can return a GPS unit at Walmart within 30 days of the purchase, but for an “undamaged prepaid wireless cell phone,” your window of opportunity is only two weeks long. And for a CD that’s been removed from its original plastic wrap, Amazon will only refund you 50 percent of the item’s original price.

6. Donating or reselling the gift is an option, too.

Donation box with clothes in the car
Someone will want whatever you’re trying to get rid of. / Witthaya Prasongsin/Moment/Getty Images

Getting a major retailer to take back an item that’s been opened, stripped of its tags, or even slightly used is often impossible—but that doesn’t mean you’ll never find a buyer. Consider selling the gift on platforms like Facebook Marketplace or eBay (a site with its very own Weird Al Yankovic song, by the way).

Or maybe think about handing it off to Goodwill; if you play your cards right, that donation could be tax-deductible.

A version of this story originally ran in 2021; it has been updated for 2022.