By COURTNEY JESPERSEN
The holidays are a time for celebration and gifts, but not all presents hit the mark and returning them doesn't feel very festive. If you find yourself unhappy with a gift, you wouldn't be the only one.
Nearly a quarter of the people responding to a 2015 holiday survey by shopping app Retale said they were likely to return or exchange at least one of the presents they received.
A recent holiday shopping report by personal finance website NerdWallet found that clothing was the most commonly returned gift last year, at 14 percent.
Many retailers allow people to exchange or return goods that didn't satisfy, but the policies often must be followed to a T. So here's what you should know about returning those holiday gifts you gave or received.
"Read the fine print," says Narayanan Janakiraman, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Texas at Arlington who writes about return policies. "Most of us know that the fine print has got all kinds of restrictions on what is qualified for a return."
First, comb through the policy to see if your product is eligible for returns. Many retailers exclude certain categories, including clearance products, opened software and video games (usually eligible only for exchange), worn clothing and gift cards. For example, Best Buy won't accept returns on digital content and prepaid cards.
Next, ensure you have all that's required for returns - usually your receipt or gift receipt and all of the item parts and packaging in good condition. You may also have to pay a restocking fee.
Then, decide the timing. Dec. 26 is predicted to be the second-busiest shopping day of 2016, according to research firm ShopperTrak, so taking something back that day may not be comfortable if you don't like crowds. For returns by mail, ensure that the package will reach the retailer before its deadline.
And putting off a return can bring its own drawbacks. Many retailers have extended their holiday return policies to the middle or end of January, but not all items qualify for the longer time frame. One example is Amazon, which has widened its usual 30-day return period to Jan. 31 for holiday purchases, but some third-party sellers on the site may have different deadlines, so check policies carefully.
Janakiraman says lenient return periods can be risky for consumers. The more time you have to make the return, the more likely you may be to buy something, but the less likely you may be to return an unsatisfactory present.
"The more you procrastinate, and the more time you have it, the more you feel ownership of it," Janakiraman says. That means you may fail to return the gift.
Mailing back returns is one convenient way to unload unwanted gifts, but it could come at a cost. Some retailers charge a return shipping fee for using their prepaid label and deduct the cost from your refund. That could make in-store returns more affordable.
Another option is Happy Returns, a network of kiosk locations (called Return Bars) within select malls. Shoppers can take an online purchase to a Return Bar for an instant refund, rather than waiting to ship it back to the retailer to get one. But this service is currently available only for items purchased from a handful of lesser-known online retailers, including Tradesy and Eloquii.
Some major outlets like Wal-Mart and Bloomingdale's allow consumers to return gifts that were bought online at a physical store location. If you decide to go to a store, take the receipt, a form of identification and the payment method used (such as a credit card) if you bought the gift.
Ryan Koral of Michigan thought his local sporting goods store would be able to pull up his order via his credit card when he recently went to make a return within the policy period. But he was surprised that a receipt was required. The best he would get without a receipt was a store credit for the lowest discounted price of the item - much less than the $50 purchase amount.
Having a gift receipt doesn't ensure a monetary refund, especially at retailers such as Burlington Coat Factory and Bed Bath & Beyond, which offer merchandise credit to gift recipients on store returns.
The key is to read the return policy before you do anything and then decide on your course of action early, Janakiraman says. Return policies generally are detailed online, but you may need to search the retailer's website for the fine print.
This article was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Email staff writer Courtney Jespersen: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @courtneynerd.
Retale: Holiday returns survey http://www.retale.com/corporate/white-papers/survey-for-holiday-returns-exchanges-in-store-64-continues-to-beat-online-24/
NerdWallet: 2016 Consumer Holiday Shopping Report https://nerd.me/3-nerdwallet-shopping
ShopperTrak: Black Friday predicted to be the busiest shopping day of 2016