Gift Returns: New rules require new tactics Don't feel guilty about returning that singing mounted fish your cousin bought you. He might be returning your gift, too. About 40 percent of Americans take back at least one gift after the holidays, says the National Retail Federation. If you find yourself in line to return a gift this season, you're apt to discover that store policies have become stricter. Restocking fees for opened boxes or missing packaging are increasingly common, and not just for electronics. For example, Sears now imposes a 15 percent restocking fee for some appliances, tools, and lawn and garden products. Some retailers relax return policies at holiday time. Except for Amazon.com, these policies refer to gifts bought in and returned to stores. See the holiday return policies for 6 popular stores. Stores have also become more persnickety about receipts. Last summer, Target changed its policy to allow for two receiptless returns a year of items less than $20. Before that the threshold was $100. Kmart, Lowe's, and Wal-Mart are among the retailers that now use computer systems to monitor how often customers return items without sales slips. If you bring back too many within a given period, the store might stop accepting them. Some retailers say they're trying to prevent returns of stolen goods. HAPPY RETURNS If returning a singing fish is essential to your sanity, follow our tips and the process should go swimmingly. Check the policy. It's probably on the store's Web site. If not, call the customer-service line or the store. Note that some stores have more generous return policies for goods purchased at holiday time. Handle with care. Lost tags, missing packaging, or damaged boxes make it less likely you'll get your due. Amazon.com says it won't accept returns of products missing the serial number or UPC square on the box. Best Buy and Circuit City charge a 15 percent restocking fee on some electronic items whether or not you've opened the box. But you should not have to pay a restocking fee if the item was defective when you unwrapped it. From best credit cards to worst diet plans: See the rankings for other hot products by Consumer Reports, so you know exactly what you are getting for your money. Bring the receipt. Being able to present one makes it more likely that you'll get back the item's full value. Without a receipt, a retailer might credit you with the lowest recent price or simply deny your return altogether. Gift givers should try to include one whenever possible Go to the right place. If the item was purchased by mail order or on the Internet, make sure you send it to the address the retailer specifies. The retailer might also have a location near you that takes mail-order returns. Sears, for instance, accepts Lands' End returns at its stores. But Macy's and Kohl's, which sell online and in stores, don't accept returns by mail if the merchandise was purchased in a store. Clear your good name. If your return is denied and you don't know why, you may have been incorrectly flagged by a store's computer for committing "return fraud." You might be able to correct the matter by e-mailing the Return Exchange, a company that monitors returns for retailers, at email@example.com.