But fear not. Ottawa retailers are often generous - some far more generous than others - in their return and exchange policies.
We all know the feeling. We like the look of something in the store, and buy it. Then, after we get home - maybe even a month or more later - we regret making the purchase.
No problem with some retailers. Just return the item, unused and undamaged, and you should be able to get your money back. That's what I found when I checked the return and exchange policies of 12 of Ottawa's leading retailers.
Naturally, these retailers want proof of purchase, preferably the receipt. They also may require the packaging in which the goods were purchased.
The biggest stumbling block to getting a refund - or, at least, a credit for the returned item - is the time interval between the purchase date and the date on which the item is returned.
In order to qualify for a full refund, this time interval can be as little as one week or as long as three months, perhaps even longer than three months, depending on which retailer you are dealing with.
Some retailers hit their customers with a penalty for returning goods. It's called a "restocking fee," that can be as much as 20 per cent of the price of the item. On an expensive TV costing $1,000, that's a $200 charge if you decide to return the item, even when it's unused and in perfect condition.
I am usually guilty of failing to check a store's return policy before purchasing an item. So it was a surprise to me to discover how widely these policies vary from one store to another.
Canadian Tire's return policy was among the best of the 12 retailers I looked at. It's unambiguously stated on the back of the receipt: "To return an item for exchange or refund, bring it to any Canadian Tire store within 90 days, in its original condition and packaging, with your receipt and issue of Canadian Tire money. Returns without the original receipt or packaging will be accepted at Canadian Tire's discretion."
A Canadian Tire store clerk, from whom I'd requested a written copy of the return policy, volunteered that it would not make a difference if I returned an item a week or two beyond the 90-day deadline.
Ikea's return policy is equally clearly stated in its catalogue, although the Swedish home furnishings giant allows only 45 days to return an item and collect a refund.
The Ikea policy is set out under the headings "Sometimes things don't go according to plan" and "45 days no-nonsense return policy." It states: "If you've changed your mind and are not entirely satisfied with your purchase, simply return the unused item within 45 days for an exchange or refund. A receipt and the item's original packaging are required for all returns and exchanges."
Costco, the giant shopping club that charges its customers between $1 and $2 a week to shop there, sets no limit on how long customers can keep some products before returning them for a full refund.
Among the exceptions to Costco's no-time-limit return policy are items such as televisions, computers and cameras, which must be returned within 90 days for a refund.
Winners, a chain that specializes in bargain-priced clothing and other items, usually offers a full refund on unused items if they are returned within 10 days of purchase. For items returned more than 10 days after purchase, Winners issues a gift card in the amount of the returned item.
However, Winners - like some other stores - modifies its return policy for the Christmas shopping season. From now until Christmas, Winners has extended the time limit for returns until Jan. 8, 2012.
The Brick, a chain of home furnishings stores, has an even shorter leash on customer returns. Under the heading "Satisfaction Guarantee," The Brick's policy states: "If the product is still in its original sealed package, we will refund the purchase price of the item and extended warranty if you return it within seven days."
The Sears department store chain permits returns within 30 days for furniture and major appliances, and 15 days for computers and electronics. However, Sears is among those that may charge a "restocking fee" on returned items.
Sears' written return policy states that a 20-per-cent restocking fee may be charged on furniture, major appliances, computers and electronics. "The restocking fee may be waived for exchanges," the policy states.
It's not always easy to get a store to provide a copy of its return or exchange policy. Staff in some stores I visited said they did not have a written copy to provide to the public.
The bottom line here is buyer, beware.
If you don't want to be stuck with something you don't want, or pay a penalty to return it, check a retailer's return or exchange policy before you buy.