Personal Finance

What To Do When Someone Asks For A Gift Back

By David Krug David Krug is the CEO & President of Bankovia. He's a lifelong expat who has lived in the Philippines, Mexico, Thailand, and Colombia. When he's not reading about cryptocurrencies, he's researching the latest personal finance software. 12 minute read

When asked what they want for the holidays, gift cards consistently rank first in studies conducted by the National Retail Federation. Instead of having someone else try to anticipate what they want and possibly get it wrong, many people would rather go shopping for themselves. 

Receiving a gift card isn’t quite as exciting as opening a package with a lovely item you’ve always wanted or a fantastic item you had no idea existed. In any case, you won’t have to worry about getting your hands on something that’s fundamentally wrong for you.

In fact, according to research published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2011, people are more satisfied with surprise gifts chosen for them by others than with those they have actively sought out and selected for themselves. 

They are more appreciative of gifts that are tailored to their interests, and they view the giver in a more positive light when the present is selected from a wish list rather than being completely random.

While it’s true that some people enjoy spoiling their loved ones with pleasant surprises, the majority of gift-givers prefer to spring a surprise on their recipients. 

The good news is you don’t have to keep a gift that doesn’t work out if you receive one that’s completely wrong. Unwanted presents can be put to good use in one of three ways exchange, refund, or re-gift.

Gift Exchange and Returns

When the undesirable present in question is a gift card to a store you don’t frequent, returning or exchanging it is a breeze. You can exchange gift cards for other cards or sell them for cash. If that doesn’t work, you can always regift it to someone else who does enjoy that store, and nobody will know the difference.

However, if the present is something tangible, some additional effort will be required to transform it into something of value. You’ll need to physically return it to the store, where you’ll join a queue of customers who also received gifts they didn’t want. 

The last thing you want after going to all that trouble is to be turned away from a store without anything you came in for. Making ensuring your gift exchange goes well requires some planning ahead of time.

Get a gift receipt.

A gift receipt a receipt that does not include the price may be included in the packaging if you intend to return the gift to the business. Unless you have the original credit card used to make the purchase or a receipt, many retailers (including Sears, Kmart, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, and GameStop) won’t accept returns.

You can still attempt a return even if there is no receipt inside the packaging. Gifts can be returned to a number of big retailers without a receipt, including Kohl’s, Costco, Lowe’s, L.L.Bean, Macy’s, Dillard’s, JCPenney, and Walmart, though customers will typically receive store credit rather than cash. 

If you made your purchase on, you can return an item there without a receipt. If the gift’s origin can’t be determined from the packaging or tag, you might always ask the giver where it was purchased without hinting that you want to return it.

Review the store’s return guidelines

Next, research the store’s return policy to see if the present may be returned. 

Try to determine the following:

  • That Which May Be Returned. There are some retailers that will only accept returns if the item is still in its original packaging and the price tag is still attached. Others are prepared to take open things, but not if they have any visible signs of damage or wear, regardless of who caused the harm. Make sure you have the necessary paperwork and the item itself to return to the retailer. In fact, it’s best not to take the gift out of the box at all if you know the moment you open it that you don’t want to keep it.
  • A Location for Its Return. It may be necessary to return an item to the store from which it was originally purchased. For instance, if you buy something online and then return it to a store, you may be responsible for paying to ship both ways. Check the receipt or the store’s website to see if you can return your online purchase to a physical location.
  • Whenever You Can Send It Back. There is typically a time limit on how long a store will accept returned merchandise. A present purchased on December 1st would have to be returned by December 31st if the return policy allows for a full refund or exchange within 30 days of purchase. Nonetheless, during the holiday season, many establishments loosen their policies. For items purchased on or after November 1st, Walmart’s standard 15- or 30-day return policy does not kick in until December 26th.
  • What You Can Do with It or Get out of It. If you still have the receipt from a gift you’ve already given, you may be able to get your money back. Some stores may only accept them in exchange for store credit or gift cards. Additionally, some stores take a restocking fee of up to 15% of the purchase price from your refund if you return an opened electronic device or any other item. When dealing with a pricey item, this might mount up quickly, and it’s possible you’d do better reselling it on your own.

Stay away from the holiday rush

There are still many people out shopping for Christmas presents even though Christmas Day has come and gone. American Express discovered in 2014 that 66 percent of Americans planned to shop on December 26. 

There were those who intended to make use of holiday deals, while others were looking forward to using their Christmas presents. Others planned to start their holiday shopping even earlier than usual.

Whatever the case may be, it’s obvious that the last week of December is a very busy time for many stores. In other words, the wait time for service will be very long and the customer service lines would be extremely long. 

Thus, if you want to return without any problem and the store’s return policy permits it, you should wait until January.

Don’t forget your ID

The National Retail Federation found that in 2012, around 5% of all returns were fraudulent. Some retailers have instituted ID requirements—such as a driver’s license—when processing returns in an effort to curb this practice. 

Some companies are harsher than others about this; in 2014, Consumer Reports named Victoria’s Secret one of the naughty retailers for requiring customers to use only government-issued ID when making returns or exchanging items.

Stores that don’t request ID from customers nonetheless benefit from customers having it on hand for returns. 

Get your ID ready and be nice to the overworked staff when you go to the counter. If you treat them with respect, they will be more lenient with you while making a return or exchange.

Remain Silent

When exchanging or returning a present, you may have to interact not only with the retailer but also with the person who gave you the present. You feel bad about telling the sender how much you disliked their gift. 

When returning a gift, there is usually no need to inform the sender. Send a thank-you note and return it without a fuss.

The decision is yours if the gift donor follows up with questions concerning the item; for example, if Aunt Frieda wonders why she never sees you wearing the sweater she got you. 

You may feel comfortable being open about your return if there was a valid reason, such as the gift being the wrong size. Simply explain that, despite your deep affection for the sweater, you were unable to keep it because it was too small.

If, however, the underlying problem was that the sweater made you look terrible, you should figure out a way to avoid telling her that. Say, It didn’t really fit me, indicating that you didn’t like the style rather than that it didn’t flatter your body.

If, on the other hand, you believe Cousin Freida genuinely wants guidance on what to give you in the future, feel free to calmly explain the issue. You can be honest without being harsh by telling her, The color wasn’t quite right for me; I like blue a lot better than yellow. This can help her make better color choices in the future.

The Regifting

The practice of regifting, or giving one’s unwanted presents to another person, is controversial. Most individuals appear to be cool with the concept. Seventy-six percent of people polled by American Express considered regifting to be morally acceptable, and 42 percent claimed they had engaged in it themselves during the previous 12 months.

People have mixed emotions about gift-giving in general, but they have a different attitude when it comes to their own presents. 

Another survey, this one from 2014 and performed by the marketing firm Ask Your Target Market, indicated that 44% of people would be insulted to learn that the recipient of a present they gave had given it away again. One-third of those polled said they would be insulted to learn that a present they had been given had been reused.

Regifting is obviously a tricky venture. That being said, you should proceed with caution if you choose to do it at all, so as not to cause any unnecessary drama.

The Regifting Rules

Gifts, whether reused or brand new, should be received with joy rather than resentment. Make sure you’re abiding by these guidelines of regifting etiquette before you start rewrapping your old gifts and giving them to strangers.

  • Pick Someone Deserving of Your Gift. Consider the recipient’s interests and give a present that will bring them joy; that’s the whole goal of giving a gift. The ideal approach to regift, then, is to give someone else an item that you no longer want or need. If you happen to obtain an Indian cookbook but don’t care for Indian cuisine, giving it to someone who does is a wonderful idea. But don’t present it to someone who has a cookbook collection already brimming with identical titles.
  • Avoid being too blatant. If a present isn’t a good fit for you, it’s perfectly acceptable to send it along to someone else and politely inquire if they’d want it. If you’re going to regift anything and make it look like you bought it yourself, at least try to disguise the fact that it was originally someone else’s present. An individual quoted in TIME shared his disappointment at discovering the monogrammed initials of his father on the cuff of a magnificent Italian dress shirt he had received as a gift. According to a survey conducted by Coupon Cabin, another lucky receiver once got a gift card wrapped in an envelope marked by the giver. The message conveyed by these gifts is completely incorrect. What these gifts really mean is I didn’t want this, but it’s good enough for you, rather than I thought of you.
  • To redistribute within a new social group. You should exercise extreme caution while passing on an undesirable gift so as not to offend the giver. The most foolproof method is to just never tell the original donor. So, if you want to regift, choose someone who is absolutely out of your social group. If your mother gave you a book that you already own, it’s best to give it to a coworker rather than someone in your family who might tell her.
  • You shouldn’t give someone a previously given present again. The article also includes the story of a man whose mother handed him a book that had been sitting on her coffee table for years as an example of inappropriate regifting. A used item is not a gift but rather a hand-me-down. A gift card with a portion of the balance depleted, a book of crossword puzzles with some of the puzzles done, and an out-of-date garment that has been collecting dust in your wardrobe are all tacky, cheap-looking excuses for a holiday present. You can still give them away, but don’t make it look like you put much effort into them.
  • Never Re-Gift Something That Means So Much to Someone Else. It’s not appropriate to give your girlfriend a family heirloom jewelry that your grandma gave you unless she’s going to join your family legally. It’s cruel to give away an ashtray your little nephew spent a week carving for you just because you don’t smoke, for the same reason. Even if you can’t find a practical use for the object given as a present, you should still treasure it for the thought that went into it. Wear the necklace at family gatherings and use the ashtray to hold goodies. You can regift something more general, like a CD or a bottle of wine, if you like.
  • Put some thought into the presentation. Careful packaging is essential for a second life for a previously given gift. Keep it in the box it came in and wrap it in lovely paper, just like a gift from the store. If the packaging is broken, replace it with a new one from the same company so that the gift seems brand new and not simply good enough. However, if you want to make the gift seem more expensive, do not use a box or bag from a more upscale retailer. It’s in horrible taste regardless, but especially so considering you didn’t spend anything on it.

Organizing a gift exchange

Having a gift exchange with a group of friends is another fun method to find a new home for undesired presents. In this way, everyone can exchange a useless present for one they’d truly like to receive. 

For example, you may give the yellow sweater from Aunt Freida to your redheaded pal who looks amazing in it, and in exchange, she could give you the DVD of a movie she already owns but you’ve always wanted to see.

By hosting a gift exchange after the holidays, it’s clear that you want to regift some of the items. Even yet, the other aforementioned regifting etiquette norms should still be observed. 

Bring only presents that are still in pristine condition and have not been opened before, and rewrap them so that opening them is like getting a brand-new gift.

Most importantly, make sure that none of the guests are acquainted with the original gift-givers. It would be really embarrassing if your best friend opened the brand-new jogging outfit she sent you as a present. 

If you want to avoid awkward moments at a party, make sure everyone on the guest list is familiar with each other’s names. All the attendees will be able to avoid bringing duplicate or generic gifts.

There are a number of options for carrying out the actual gift exchange itself. In the end, everyone who participated gets a present, but you may up the ante by making the exchange itself a game.

Here are a few examples of possible solutions:

  • Change of Address (Yankee Swap). Gather all the gifts under the tree and have your guests draw numbers out of a hat. The person who draws the number 1 gets to open the first present. The second player then has the option of opening a brand new present or stealing the one Player 1 has already chosen. So long as Players 1 and 2 have gifts, Player 3 can choose a new gift or steal one of those gifts. In the end, Player 1 receives an extra turn, giving everyone one last shot at nicking a present.
  • Gifts of Music. Guests congregate in a circle, each with a wrapped present in hand, for this twist on musical chairs. Play some tunes you can set iTunes to repeat for a predetermined amount of time and pass out presents to everyone in attendance. At the end of the song, everyone opens their present.
  • Seasonal Quiz. Invitees should jot down holiday-themed trivia questions like, “What do you call Santa’s reindeer?” Gather the questions and their solutions into a hat or bowl. People at the party take turns selecting a question from the hat and posing it to the rest of the group; the person who posed the question cannot respond. A prize is awarded to the first individual who successfully answers a question. It’s game over for them, but they can still be the reader in future rounds. Repeat this process until everyone has a gift.

As the outcomes of these games are completely unpredictable, players can not expect to be completely satisfied with the prizes they get. All of your visitors should feel free to continue trading gifts with one another once the game is over. After all, no one wants to leave a gift exchange with even more gifts than they came with.

Bottom Line

If you receive a present that you don’t like or can’t use, you don’t have to keep it. However, you still owe it to the giver to express gratitude. It is only polite to express appreciation for a present, even if you end up returning it or giving it to someone else.

You don’t have to mention that you returned a gift while expressing gratitude to the donor. Instead, you should highlight the generosity of the gift donor and specific aspects of the present that made you happy in your thank-you you. 

Even if the present was utterly incorrect for you and there was nothing at all you loved about it, you should still thank the giver for thinking of you. After all, the thought isn’t the only thing that counts, but it still counts for something.

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