Save Your Receipt
Yes, this one is a big "Duh." Don't have a receipt? No return for you. But as the BBB's Cox observes, it's always a problem: "Every holiday season it comes up: Get a receipt. It's astounding how many folks don't do that. Every year literally billions of dollars are lost in return fraud. Retailers are not interested in having somebody buy something, use it over the holidays, and bring it back. Get a receipt and hang on to that receipt, or you're going to have a tough time."
If you received the gadget as a gift or you accidentally misplaced the receipt, you're not completely out of luck. Amazon.com, for example, will issue a gift certificate rather than a refund. If you call the site's customer service number, the representative will ask you a few questions to identify the original order (and they promise not to tell on you for returning a gift).
If you bought the product for yourself, Best Buy's Dudash notes that the retailer may be able to look up your credit card number in its computer to locate the sale and facilitate a return.
If You Bought the Item Online
Some retailers have the same policies for online returns as they do for in-store returns, but others don't. Circuit City, for example, requires that you obtain a return authorization (many merchants call this a return merchandise authorization or RMA) before mailing back a product purchased online. That means you must advise the site (by filling out a Web form) that you're returning the product and thereby get a number that you will put on the package to expedite processing when it arrives at the return facility.
Circuit City also requires you to pay shipping and insurance on each package. But like Best Buy and Costco, Circuit City will accept in-person returns of online purchases at any of its retail stores.
Don't Be a Regular Returner
Believe it or not, a company called The Retail Equation (formerly The Return Exchange) helps most retailers track your return habits. The purpose of such monitoring is to reduce fraud, but even if you're an honest person who simply has difficulty making decisions, frequent returns can get you in trouble. Retailers may simply refuse to accept your return or permit an exchange. If you want to see what information The Retail Equation has about your product returns, you can contact the company at an e-mail address on its Web site.