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Some retailers relax gift return policies

Not all gifts are created equal, especially at the return counter.

Return policies have grown more complicated by the year, with stores imposing specific terms, fees and deadlines on different products.

But some stores try to ease the headaches by relaxing policies this time of year.

Robert Yeganeh, owner of the Farmingdale-based chain Love My Shoes, said he is being "extremely liberal" with his holiday return policy this year. Customers can exchange merchandise bought in October up until Jan. 9 because many people were out shopping early for Christmas, Yeganeh said.

"This is where you prove to your customer you are user friendly and on their side," Yeganeh said. "So nobody's going to leave unhappy."

Still, looser rules may not apply to your particular gift. Here's what you need to know to avoid a post-holiday retail hangover:

A policy for each product

In general, jewelry and electronics are subject to much shorter deadlines and anything bought on sale can be difficult to take back.

Big-box stores also tailor rules for categories such as clothing or items for the home.

Return policies tend to be more elaborate for items bought online, said Edgar Dworsky, who runs ConsumerWorld.org, a website that compiles an annual survey of store return policies.

Differences between online and brick-and-mortar product lineups and discounts also can lead to varying rules on returns.

The holiday factor

Retailers try to spread the cheer beyond the holidays, with about a third extending return deadlines far into January, according to the National Retail Federation.

Another bonus during the holidays is the relaxed rules regarding receipts. Given the likelihood that a receipt may have been lost or not included with your gift, stores often don't require one for returns and exchanges immediately following the holidays, said Joe LaRocca, spokesman for the National Retail Federation.

Huntington Business Products Centre is flexible with its return policy, said Amira Garbus, co-owner of the Huntington store. Customers have 10 days to return an item with the receipt and up to 30 days to return it for store credit. However, Garbus said it's not unusual to allow customers to return merchandise even after 30 days.

"We're very flexible because we're a neighborhood store and we know all of our customers," Garbus said.

Returns can come at a cost

Restocking fees have become a sore point for shoppers. They typically apply to electronics that have been removed from the packaging, which can cost about 15 percent of the original purchase price. At Overstock.com, customers can be charged as much as 60 percent of the purchase price, depending on the item's condition.

The fees have so rankled consumers that U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked federal regulators to force retailers earlier this month to display restocking fee policies more prominently. With Keiko Morris

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