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Shoppers should know store policies

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Thousands are expected to brave near-freezing temperatures, and possibly, freezing rain Friday, in an attempt to take advantage of some of the season's lowest retail prices.

Long lines of shoppers at Belk's of McDonough are typical the morning after Thanksgiving Day. By 5 a.m., the crowds are impressively large on the day popularly known as Black Friday, when retailers mark down retail prices in order to generate high-volume sales to get them back in the black in revenue.

"The biggest crowds are the first five hours," said Debbie Slicker, Belk store manager. "The electronics are always our biggest selling item in the morning, the day after Thanksgiving."

Black Friday is the retailer's busiest day of the year, Slicker said. Customers should be prepared to stand in line longer than normal. They should also be intelligent shoppers and think ahead when buying gifts.

Customers, for instance, should request a "gift receipt" for gifts they give to relatives and friends. Gift receipts are receipts that include an item's retail UPC (Universal Product Code) barcode - enough information for a person to return or exchange a product.

"It doesn't have the price on it, but it has the UPC code," Slicker said. "Even without that, we return purchases for the holidays up to 180 days [from purchase]."

According to Slicker, Belk offers a return and exchange policy as a customer service. She said the policy is readily visible around the store and at each of its registers. Some other retailers, however, may not have the same policy.

Return and exchange policies are not universal in Georgia, said Fred Elsberry, Jr., president of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) of metro Atlanta, Athens and Northeast Georgia. In Georgia, companies are allowed to establish their own policies regarding refunds, exchanges and store credits.

"In many firms, no such policies exist," Elsberry said. "No company is required by law to allow a customer the right to return or exchange merchandise, no matter when it was purchased. The only exceptions to this rule are items that are misrepresented or defective, [and] the laws in all states require a store to make good in such cases."

Consumers are responsible for learning store policies about refunds, exchanges, and store credits. Policies for refunds and exchanges are voluntarily adopted to provide better customer service and not because a store is required by law.

"The most common issue is that they didn't know they couldn't take it back until they take it back," Elsberry said. "There's nothing legally that requires the retailer to take it back."

Belk's store policy for store credits, for instance, may be different from some other retailers, in that store credits generally cannot be substituted for cash.

"Gift cards are wonderful," said Slicker, Belk store manager. "We do a lot of gift cards. [But] we don't cash them out. The gift cards are for merchandise."

Another tip that could benefit all shoppers year round is the value of the receipt for returns and exchanges, when the policies apply. "Keep your receipts," Slicker said. "If you have your receipts, you're covered."

According to the BBB, even if the store does not have a return policy, information on the receipt may be needed for warranty repair or to verify payment.

The BBB also suggests customers find out if refunds or exchanges are allowed; find out the specific time period in which items may be returned; find out if the items need to be in the original packaging; find out if there will be a restocking fee if you change your mind; find out if you can return the item to another location of the store; and find out if the store gives money back, or will you be required to make an exchange or receive a store credit.