Two years ago, in a bid to escape the Canadian cold, Joan Petraglia and her girlfriends splurged on a winter vacation in Montego Bay, where they hoped to bask in the heat and splash in sparkling pools for a week.
But when they got to the resort, the group found that the hotel was under construction, the pool was closed, and that paint fumes would be an unwelcome addition to their dinner each night.
So Petraglia did what she’s best at: she returned the vacation for a full refund. By doing so, she proved that you can return just about anything—if you do it the right way.
I’ve pulled off my own share of unlikely returns, so I know it can be done. I remember the time I ripped a brand new dress from Banana Republic on New Year’s Eve, for instance. The next day I took it back to the store and handed back the dress, along with removed tags and receipt. I walked out, cash-in-hand, thanks to the pride major retailers have regarding holiday season returns.
Returning merchandise is usually straightforward if you have a receipt and you’re following store policy—but what if the receipt is long gone? If that’s the case, follow these proven tips from Petraglia, founder of a personal shopping business StyledClosets, and you’ll get your money back nearly every time.
Go straight to the top
Petraglia says the key to getting her vacation refund was to leap-frog over the customer service department and write a note directly to the head of the resort company. “I looked up the property owner and found the CEO,” she explains. “Then I wrote a letter about our experience. It was well thought out. I wasn’t babbling. In the end I got the entire week free—I only had to pay the airfare.”
Petraglia says the letter should be polite, brief and stick to the facts. “Write the letter as a request, not a complaint, and be very straightforward about it.”
Use your credit card bill
Returns are easy if you have a receipt, but we all know how quickly those small slips of paper can get lost. Thankfully, proving a purchase without one is not impossible. When my blender broke, I returned it to Wal-Mart without a receipt, or even the original packaging. Instead, I demonstrated that the store carried the blender model by showing the sales associate that the same make and model of blender was currently stocked. I then handed over my Mastercard statement showing a charge for the exact same price as the units on the shelf, plus applicable provincial taxes.
If you can’t find a line on your credit card statement to prove your purchase, another option is to use a loyalty or membership card. Popular points collector cards, such as Aeroplan and Air Miles, and in-store loyalty cards will often keep your purchases stored in your account database. Membership stores, such as Costco and Mountain Equipment Co-op, can search your purchases using your client number. Other stores, such as Home Depot and Best Buy can search for purchases using your credit card number (as long as you made your purchase using your credit card, of course).
Play nice, go further
Finally, even if you’re frustrated, remember that you’ll get much further by being polite (but firm), than you will by having a meltdown. If you feel your concerns are not being addressed or you’re denied a refund, then find out who to turn to further up the chain of command and escalate your case. But don’t lose your temper. “I’ve been at the other end,” says Petraglia, “and believe me, it pays to be nice.”