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Shoppers at a Toronto mall

Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail

Airlines may be willing to refund customers when an unexpected act of nature occurs, but when you don't have a volcano to blame, getting your money back isn't so easy. Here's your guide to getting a refund for items big and small:

1) Know the store's return policy

"You shouldn't buy anything at a small 'mom and pop' shop unless you know what their refund policy is," says Bruce Cran, the president of the Consumers Association of Canada. You may pay more at a department store, but you'll often be able to exchange, return and even get a price adjustment, he says.

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If you go to the store after the return deadline has passed, turn on the charm, says Edgar Dworsky, who operates the consumer advocacy site

"I'd approach it telling them, 'I've been a customer here for X number of years. I usually keep all my sales receipts, and for some reason this got lost. Can you accommodate me?' " he says.

2) Use a credit card

If you're looking for an extra layer of protection when making big-ticket purchases, use your plastic, Mr. Cran says. If the product or service purchased hasn't been supplied, the credit card company might be able to supply you with the money you lost.

"You might be paying 20-per-cent interest, but part of it is for these benefits or goodies attached to the end of it," Mr. Cran explains. "The people that get into trouble are the ones that save their money in a tin can in the backyard and pay cash."

3) Reach for the top of the ladder

If the customer service agent at the front lines rebuffs your request for a refund or exchange, don't give up, Mr. Dworsky says.

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Move up to the store manager, then call the company's customer service line, and finally contact the head office, where many companies have an "executive resolutions" department.

It took Mr. Dworsky about six weeks of appeals, but he finally had a gas range he'd purchased at Sears replaced when he tracked down the e-mail address of a high-ranking executive and explained his case.

Persistence pays off, he says.

"I know someone who is usually wrong, but because he's so obnoxious to deal with they just give him the refund," Mr. Dworsky says. "He calls and rants and threatens to go to the BBB."

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