The State Department of Consumer Protection has put together a "shopper's list" to give people the do's and don'ts of holiday gift buying.

Refunds: In Connecticut, retailers can impose any refund and exchange policy they wish, but it must be conspicuously posted at the store entrance, where the items are displayed for sale, or at the checkout counter. If there is no posted policy, consumers have seven days to return almost any new, unused item with its original packaging and the sales receipt. Exceptions include custom-ordered or custom-made, plants, clearance and "as-is" items.

Return policies: Some stores offer extended holiday return policies. If it's not printed on the receipt or on a store flyer, get it in writing, preferably from the manager.

Defective merchandise: If an item is defective, consumers have the right to return it for a replacement or a refund. Consumers are protected under the implied warranty of merchantability law, which states that a new product must do what it is supposed to do.

Restocking fees: Some stores charge consumers for returning an item. They are allowed to do this provided they post a notice of their restocking fees in a conspicuous place.

Price matching: Stores often promise to match their competitor's advertised price, and on smaller items like games, toys and name-brand clothing, these can be a timesaver. But for electronics, entertainment systems and appliances, consumers could have difficulty finding the exact same model in competing stores, so the price match won't apply.

Lay-a-way: This service is making a comeback as shoppers try to reduce credit spending. Lay-a-way allows consumers to shop now while the selection is still good, and delay full payment until it's time to pick up the merchandise, usually 30 days. Connecticut stores must provide a lay-a-way statement that includes the amount of deposit, length of time the items will be held, total purchase price, a description and a notice of cancellation policy.

Extended warranties: A warranty is something given free with the product. Extended warranties are service contracts that are purchased. Store salespeople are encouraged to sell these plans; the profit margin is often greater than that for the merchandise. Usually not recommended, since service contracts often overlap the warranty period that comes with the product.

Shopping online: Consumers are encouraged to look for privacy and security seals, which indicate that they are verified, and read all the terms, including delivery date, return policy, and warranties.

Shopping by mail: Consumers are urged to use tried-and-true retailers for shopping by mail, and to read all the terms, including delivery date, return policy, and warranties. Otherwise, they may not get what they ordered, may not get it in time, or not get it at all.

Gift cards: Under state law, gift cards sold in Connecticut do not expire, even if an expiration date is printed on the card, nor can they accrue inactivity fees or penalties if not used by a certain date. Local store and restaurant cards usually cost nothing to buy, have no monthly fees and often allow the user to carry over a balance if not used all at once. "General purpose" gift cards offered by some malls or financial institutions can be purchased nearly anywhere, cost a few dollars to buy, and often have monthly fees attached after the first six months.