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Writing a thank you note for a gift you have exchanged or returned

"Never try to guess your wife's size. Just buy her anything marked 'petite' and hold on to the receipt!"
Author unknown
Thoughtful gift givers often include the receipt in case the gift should fail to please. But how to write a thank you note for a gift that you have exchanged or returned? Should you tell or keep quiet?
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So, you've just received a gift you hate – it's ugly, the wrong shape or size, a hideous color, or something you neither want nor will ever use. Conversely, the gift may be exactly what you like – indeed you already have the precise same thing!

Fortunately the receipt is included, so it will be a simple matter to exchange or return the offending item. However, this presents a dilemma regarding your note: should you simply send a graciously worded thank you note? Or should you 'fess up' to your exchange or return?

To tell or not to tell...?

By including the receipt, the giver has given you tacit 'permission' to exchange the item. Nevertheless, it's a sensitive area, so tread carefully! Exchanges for a different size or color are one thing, but the giver may be very taken aback if you admit to exchanging their carefully picked-out set of silverware for a Kindle or iPad.

Admitting that you have returned the item for cash, however, is to tread on really dangerous ground. Even your closest friend or relative is likely to be offended. It's your call of course, but I would strongly recommend writing a straightforward thank you note (and keeping very quiet about the return).

Your best course of action will depend on three main issues:

1. Is the giver likely to notice or find out about the exchange / return?

This is the big issue. If you don't tell them that you have exchanged or returned their gift, are they ever likely to find out? And if you do tell them, are they likely to be upset or offended? Full disclosure will largely depend on your answers to these two questions.

2. Are you planning to exchange the gift for something similar, something completely different, or return it for the cash?

Exchanging a gift for a similar item (or, for example, a different size or color) is usually quite acceptable as it preserves the spirit of the gift, just changing a detail. For example, few people would be offended to find that you have exchanged the black purse they gave you for a brown one (see my sample notes for how to word your note).

On the other hand, if you don't want the purse at all, but return it for some DVDs, that's much harder to explain. However nicely you word your note, the sub text is always going to be, 'your gift was a dud and you failed to get me what I wanted'. In such a case, either keep the purse (if you think they will find out about a return) or return it (if you're sure they won't), but either way, write a gracious thank you note for the purse.

3. Does the gift have a major flaw that you feel the giver needs to know about?

There are a few cases where letting the giver know about the problem with their gift may prevent major embarrassment in the future.

For example, clothing in the wrong size (you may receive the same size next year if you don't tell); something you are allergic to (often better to let them know); something you simply can't use (telling them may save future embarrassment on both sides).

Mail order gifts and exchanges

Bear in mind that in the case of mail order gifts (and especially those charged to a credit card), refunds will likely be paid only to the original buyer, and they may also be informed of exchanges too. Double check the situation with the company involved before deciding what to do!
Once you've weighed up these pros and cons it should be fairly clear whether you can get away with keeping quiet, or whether you need to 'come clean'.

For help wording your note, see the following examples: