SAN DIEGO, December 25, 2014 – It may be Christmas today, but it’s Black Friday, Round two tomorrow, December 26. That’s the day the avalanche of Christmas returns and exchanges will descend on hapless retailers nationwide.
And who knows? Although we don’t have any hard statistics, it might be CyberExchange Day as well for equally hapless e-tailers.
Perhaps some of you are confronting that age-old dilemma yourselves. Maybe that Snuggie is an unflattering color, or the lovely figurine from Aunt Wilma doesn’t match your décor. Or perhaps it’s unlikely you’ll ever use that electric garlic press gifted to you by your eccentric brother-in-law.
Whatever the reason, in 2013, shoppers returned a record-high $267 billion in holiday gifts according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). Yes, that’s with a B billion. It represents 8.6 percent of all gifts received. Higher numbers can be expected once the 2014 tally is in.
More problematic is the issue of flat our fraudulent returns. According to NRF’s Return Fraud survey, NRF estimates retailers may have lost as much as $9.1 billion in 2013 due to return fraud during the holiday season.
While some retailers make return policies more lenient during the holiday season, “many retailers have also begun to change their return policies to account for an increase in return fraud,” NRF notes in its 2013 report. Word to the wise: if you have something to return this year, check out a retailer’s return policy before you embark on your 2014 return quest.
What gifts are being returned most often? According to one poll conducted by MarketTools and an earlier one by the department store chain Kohl’s, clothing and shoes make up an expected 62 percent of all returns. Items returned include:
- Clothing and shoes: 62%.
- Toys, games and hobbies: 16%.
- Consumer electronics: 14%.
- Kitchen and bath: 13%.
- Beauty and cosmetics: 10%.
- Jewelry and watches: 10%.
It’s likely you’re going to have a lot of company while you stand in long lines, waiting for a frazzled clerk who feels like she is on the treadmill from Hell and you are just one more crazy person there to make her life difficult.
This former mens’ clothing saleswoman and veteran shopper knows the bad behavior and unrealistic expectation of shoppers knows no limits. Do yourself, hard-working retail personnel, and everyone’s nerves a favor and follow this checklist to help you have many happy returns.
1. Know where the gift came from.
The silver necklace in the Tiffany’s box might have come from Target. Don’t assume the item comes from the same place stamped on the gift box. Many of us recycle boxes. Other people try to impress you with a fancy name. You need to ask the gift giver if there isn’t a tag identifying the original seller of the item. And givers, PLEASE be honest, or your recipient will end up finding out the truth in a much more embarrassing and frustrating way.
2. Know the seller’s return policy.
Do you have to return the gift within a certain amount of time? Most retailers extend the return period after Christmas but the majority don’t allow returns forever. Is a receipt always required? Will you get cash, store credit, or a mailed refund?
3. Have a receipt.
Gift givers, please be thoughtful and keep your receipts handy to provide your recipients. Many retailers offer gift receipts, which are duplicate copies without a price printed on them. If you don’t have a receipt, see #1.
4. Check whether there are restocking fees.
It’s not uncommon for stores that sell electronics, hardware, or large items to charge a restocking fee that you will need to pay upon return. It can be up to 20 percent. It might make you think twice about returning the item. Perhaps you can swap it to someone else who can use it.
5. Try to return items unopened, especially electronics and hardware.
Some retailers will only give you an exchange for the same item if the box is opened, or will give only a partial refund or credit.
6. Be sure you have all the original wrapping or packaging, instructions, pieces and accessories.
If a retailer believes that an opened item isn’t complete – perhaps a small but vital accessory is missing – you’re going to get a hassle and probably aren’t going to be able to return the item. Repack it as closely to the original configuration as you can.
7. Don’t go to stores at peak times.
This week, anytime is a peak time. But you’ll fare better later in the day, from the dinner hour until closing. If you are willing to get there when the doors open, it’s a second choice. Avoid the middle of the day, and weekends.
8. Don’t return something used.
Yes, we need to remind some of you not to wear a pair of shoes or run a kitchen appliance for a few days, and then try to pass it off as unused and new when you take it back. Some retailers are forgiving if the item is faulty or defective. But be honest if you take a used item back. Otherwise don’t bother and chalk it up to a lesson learned, or give it away.
9. Consider asking the gift giver if he or she wants to make the return or exchange.
Sometimes your gift giver will happily make the return on your behalf, especially if the item needs to be mailed back to an online retailer. It can also spare discomfort over disclosing the price of the gift. Sometimes shipping is free if you really like the item and want to exchange for a different size or color.
10. Consider donating or re-gifting.
Remember, you didn’t spend your own money on this. It’s not the end of the world if you can’t get anything back for an item that’s re-gifted, has no receipt, or if you’d upset your grandmother or best friend by informing them you’re going to return it. So give it a good home with someone who would appreciate it by donating it to the charity of your choice such as the Salvation Army, Goodwill, or AMVETS. You’ll at least get a tax receipt for your donation, and no matter what color that Snuggie is, it will be well-received.
According to Consumer Reports, 18 percent of recipients will donate a gift to charity, 15 percent will try to re-gift an item, 11 percent will just toss something out and six percent will try to resell an item.
Next year, drop a few more well-timed hints to potential gift-givers so you don’t wind up in this same gift-return boat again 12 months from now. Work comments like these into your conversation: “I just love earrings, anything faux fur, Philosophy shower gels, and good tequila.”
(Earlier article updated with recent stats by Terry Ponick)
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California, and a serious shopper. Read more Media Migraine in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.