Shopping expert reveals best ways to return, exchange gifts after the holidays

FILE-Shoppers walk through The Grove shopping mall during the holiday shopping season, three days before Christmas in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

There’s a chance you may get an unwanted gift this holiday season, and if it doesn't match your interest or taste, it likely means a trip back to your local stores to find a replacement.  

Stores are likely to be flooded with consumers after the holidays eager to upgrade a less than appealing present sitting under their tree.  

And while scouring the aisles and clearance racks at stores for the perfect gift, smart shopping expert Trae Bodge has some helpful tips to keep in mind to make the process easier.

When is the best time to return or exchange a gift?

Usually, the best time to return or exchange a gift is after the new year to avoid crowds while taking advantage of post-holiday bargains.

"In my opinion, it’s best to return or exchange a gift between Jan 2 and Jan 15 because the week after Christmas is the busiest time for returns, Bodge says. "This window is a sweet spot because crowds will start to thin out, yet the clearance sales will still be in effect.  And most retailers guarantee returns through mid-January."

RELATED: Survey: Holiday shoppers to spend more on gifts this year – here’s what they plan to buy

If you’re returning a gift to the store, having the receipt will avoid any hassle or issues you could encounter at the register. 

"Having a gift receipt eliminates friction between you and the sales associate when you return the item.  Also, you want to make sure the item is in a sellable condition, so the retailer can easily resell it. If you don’t have a gift receipt, you might have to accept a refund of a lower amount if the item you are returning happens to be on sale."

Bodge explains that if you don’t have a receipt, there is no need to panic, because there could be an alternative to resolving the matter. 

RELATED: Gifts for the holidays: How to plan, shop wisely this season amid inflation

"It really depends on the retailer; they may accept the return but give you a discounted refund if the item is currently on sale. And as a consumer, it always helps to be respectful, kind and patient with the store associate because you’re likely to get a more favorable result.  Ultimately, try to have as many of the item’s elements as possible (inner and outer packaging, tags, etc.) and avoid being rude and impatient."

Is regifting okay?

For consumers who want to avoid standing in long lines to return a gift, you also have the option to regift. 

"I think it is okay to regift as long as the items look brand new.  The gift may not be a good fit for you but may be for someone else.  Make sure to store these items carefully, so they look fresh and new when you regift them. I think regifting is a good option but selling the item online works too. For example, websites like specialize in camera and videography equipment. They will give you an estimate of what they will pay for the item as well as a free shipping label. Once they receive the item and it’s as promised, they will pay you via direct deposit in two days."

RELATED: Some holiday shoppers are buying for themselves instead of gift-giving

And if you're returning or exchanging an item for the holiday season, Bodge notes that one tidbit consumers should be aware of. 

"I think it’s important to address online returning versus in-store returning because about 40% of retailers are starting to charge between $5-10 for return shipping on items. And because of that consumers are being caught off guard. To avoid shipping fees, consider returning in-store, if that option is available."

This story was reported from Washington, D.C.