You want your gifts to be perfect, but not all of them are. Sometimes they're the wrong size or color, and the recipient will want to return the item for something else. As you shop you might do well to consider a store's return policy before making a purchase.

When determining a store's return policy, it's always best to ask for it in writing. Don't just take the word of an employee. Consider the experience of Julie, from Renton, Washington, who recently purchased a jacket at Burlington Coat Factory.

"When checking out, I asked the clerk about their return policy, she told me 14 days with the receipt and tags and/or package it came in. When I got home, I realized it was the same jacket I bought at season end last year, just a different color," she told ConsumerAffairs.com.

After Julie drove back to the store to return the jacket, the customer service office took the jacket back and handed her a gift card in the amount of the original purchase but would not give her a cash refund.

"I was told the 'return' policy is 14 days with receipt and the tags and/or packaging the item came in. I asked where that policy was posted, she pointed to the ceiling. There was every kind of policy except a 'return' policy."

Returns can be slightly more complicated when you purchase items online. The transaction must be resolved by telephone and email, and when a third party is involved, it can get even more complicated.

"I paid $914 for patio chairs for my restaurant from Overstock.com. I paid for them using PalPal," said Phillip, of Portland, Oregon.

"A week later Overstock.com informed me that they were not in stock. I asked for a refund but they claimed they only issue store credits. I have since found another product and have no use for a store credit for a product they do not have."

Stores find it to be a costly annoyance when consumers return merchandise. Some retailers have begun using a computer database operated by The Return Exchange of Irvine, California, to track customer returns.

Stores swipe the shopper's driver's license each time a return is being made, and if the store-set return limit is exceeded, the customer's tendered return is denied. Most stores' posted policies do not warn shoppers of a cap on frequent returns.

The Return Exchange boasts that its "Verify-1" system offers retailers "a measurable reduction in your return rate without disruption of your business, delays for customers, or added burdens on IT operations."

The company says it does not share details of a consumer's return history with multiple retailers. Instead, it says that information is based only on previous transactions with each retailers. In other words, Target would learn only of other returns to Target.

According to the company's Web Site, information provided to retailers includes:

• Characteristics of your current return, such as the time since you purchased the item, the number of items, the total dollar amount, and the time since your last return.

• Characteristics in your return history, such as the number and kind of returns you have made, if you have provided receipts or not, the duration between your returns, the dollar amounts of your returns, and the number of stores in which you have made returns.

• The performance of consumers who have return characteristics similar to yours.

The company's Website offers an email address consumers can write to for a copy of their return record: ReturnActivityReport@TheReturnExchange.com. Consumers who do not receive a satisfactory response should file a consumer complaint with ConsumerAffairs.com, the Federal Trade Commission and their state attorney general.

Some large retailers presumably maintain their own, proprietary databases of similar information.

Besides using return records, stores are using increasingly strict but conventional means to curb returns. Items such as computers, digital cameras, and opened goods may be subject to limited return rights, restocking fees, shortened return periods, or no refunds at all. When purchasing these items, it is always wise to check the stores written policy.

Tips for Hassle-Free Returns

To improve your chances of getting a full refund, provide a sales slip or gift receipt, and return the item in new condition, unopened, and with all original packaging material. Returns without a receipt are subject to the retailer's posted return policy, which might result in receiving only a merchandise credit for the lowest price the item has sold for in recent weeks, or possibly no refund or exchange at all.

If the item to be returned is defective, some states, such as Massachusetts, require the store to give the consumer his or her choice of one of the three "R's": repair, replacement or refund, irrespective of the store's posted return policy.

Consumers who have a problem returning a gift, should first contact the store manager or customer service department of the retailer.

Some credit cards also offer a "return guarantee" benefit whereby the card issuer will refund your money if a store will not within 90 days of purchase. If a satisfactory resolution is not obtained, then a complaint can be filed with the state Attorney General's office or local consumer agency.