PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – The mere thought of returning unwanted Christmas gifts will make many people shudder.

In addition, there’s the even more dreaded trip to the store to return it.

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You can try to avoid it, but it will happen to the best of us in the next few days.

However, there are some very important things you need to know before you head to the store.

There’s been a whole lot of mental gymnastics going on in the walkways of our malls in recent weeks.

At some point in time, someone came up with the saying “It’s the thought that counts.”

Clearly, they must have been holding a gift they weren’t thrilled with.

“There are some standout stores like Nordstrom that will take anything back. That’s what they are known for, their high service, no questions asked,” Dr. Jeffery Inman with Pitt’s Katz Graduate School of Business said.

However, many others are not so anxious to honor returns.

“They should. You paid cash for it and you have a receipt. Absolutely, especially if there is something damaged,” Lisa Blake said.

Here’s the hard reality of Pennsylvania law.

“No they are not. They are not required to do anything for you. Every stores return policy is different,” Becky Maier with the Better Business Bureau said.

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In fact, the only law is that retailers must have a return policy and live up to it. As long as you have a receipt, it should be an easy process to return the item. Just be sure to read the return policy to avoid any problems.

“It makes the whole transaction process go a lot smoother,” Mark Staub with Best Buy said.

If you do find yourself without a receipt, keep in mind you are throwing yourself on the mercy of the customer service folks.

“A lot of times, you can return it without a receipt and at least get store credit,” David Stringer said.

Now let’s address the issue of opening your gifts.

“Some of the retailers are tightening up quite a bit on their return policies. Particularly, some of the retailers that sell high-ticket items,” Dr. Inman said.

So be careful with how you open your gifts.

Even opening the box to get a hands-on look at your new device could cost you. Some companies charge a restocking fee for opened items.

Best Buy just announced this week that it is waving its restocking fees for returns after Christmas. However, that doesn’t mean anything goes for returns.

“If it’s a movie, a game, a CD, or DVD computer program. Once the seal is broken on that box, unfortunately we’re not allowed to return it. If it’s defective [then] absolutely we’re going to make an exchange for it,” Staub said.

So in the excitement of opening gifts, remember these four things:

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  1. If you think you might return it, don’t even crack the seal
  2. If you do open the gift, hang on to every piece of packaging.
  3. On clothing, leave the tags in place until you are sure it’s not going back
  4. Do everything you can to have a receipt or a gift receipt when you return to the store. Don’t be afraid to ask the giver for a receipt.

The Better Business Bureau said when you go to customer service, be kind. Especially if it’s a marginal call that could play in your favor.