What to expect when you return a gift to the store (hint: not cash)

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Stores are packed with shoppers looking for great deals... and gift recipients returning gifts that just didn't work out. The big return days are Thursday and Friday. (Saturday and Sunday will be busy, too!)

All told, Americans will return about $100 billion worth of gifts -- but we will not be getting $100 billion back.

Shopper Michael Ouellette is familiar with the routine, telling 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney, "I know that they are very reluctant to give cash back, in any case."

RELATED: Keep return policies in mind when shopping for holiday gifts

Maybe even more than reluctant. Most retailers grab hold of that cash and generally won't let go unless you are the original purchaser.

Edgar Dworsky is the founder of the website, Consumer World. He says know what to expect when you enter the store.

"Keep in mind even with a gift receipt that person is not going to get a cash refund, or a credit card refund," he warns. "They are going to get merchandise credit, equal to the amount the gift giver paid or they are going to get an even exchange. Only the gift purchaser can get money back on their credit card or cash back."

For 16 years, Dworsky has been keeping track of returns and exchanges and the rules surrounding them. He says the rules are getting more restrictive.

"You think, 'Oh, look I have a gift receipt.' That's good, but you weren't the actual purchaser," he says. "Remember they always say, when you bring something back, give us the credit card you used to purchase the item. Well, if you are the gift recipient, you don't have the credit card that was used to purchase. So you can only really expect and even exchange, a merchandise credit or a gift card."

That brings us back to Michael Ouellette. "So, people who have been given gifts who return them can't get money back is what you are saying," he asks Michael Finney.

Exactly, and you won't even get that if you wait too long. Retailers have been tightening up their return and exchange rules. Most will give you 15 to 30 days after the holidays -- but not all, so you need to check.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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