5 On Your Side

Retailers to rein in returns this season

Posted December 5, 2007
Updated November 18, 2008

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— December brings the season of giving and receiving – but then January becomes the season of returns. Increasingly stricter return policies may make it tougher to bring back gifts.

The National Retail Federation expects nearly 40 percent of Americans will take back at least one gift after the holiday season.

“Restocking fees are fairly common in large electronics stores, but we're seeing them in other places, too. Sears, for example, has a 15 percent restocking fee for some appliances, tools and lawn and garden products,” said Tobie Stanger, with Consumer Reports.

Other large retailers are also tightening the reins on returns. Target limits returns without receipts to just two per year and only for items worth less than $20. Lowe's, K-Mart and Wal-Mart are among many retailers that use computers to monitor how often customers make returns.

“If you bring back too many items to a store without a receipt, within a small period of time, the retailer may not accept them. The reason is they're trying to reduce the amount of returns of stolen goods,” Stanger said.

Return fraud costs retailers more than $16 billion a year, according to the National Retail Federation.

The best way to reduce hassles is to include a gift receipt with your present.

“If you bring back a gift receipt, you're going to get the item's full price instead of the post-holiday sale price,” Stanger said.

When you get a gift, handle it with care. Damaged boxes, lost tags or missing packaging make it less likely you will get full value for a return.

Also, make sure you read the fine print on the return policy. It can differ between online and in-store purchases.

14 Comments

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  • NeverSurrender Dec 7, 2007

    "They need to be strick. It is really true that some people buy a whole lot just to load up under their tree to show off to people when they have company or christmas parties. Then the people can act like they are loaded and after Christmas they spend time taking back all those show-off gifts to the stores."

    ---

    I'd be surprised if that is even true of 1% of the people returning gifts. I think it's far more likely that the vast majority of people returning gifts are actually doing so for honest reasons (don't need it, don't want it, already got it) than for nefarious purposes.

    That's the part that really burns me about the wholesale adoption of policies that make me wonder if I'll have to show a passport to do a return/exchange in the future.

    I understand the motivation of the corporations to protect their precious profits but at some point, they have to understand the principle that hassling your customers too much may well invite them to not be your customer anymore.

  • NeverSurrender Dec 7, 2007

    My other favourite Target policy is that even when you have the gift receipt, I've been required to use the credited value of the returned items that day and the new items had to be from the same department as the items I returned.

    The case that prompted that was my father bringing about twenty bottles of liquid clothes detergent in one shot...unfortunately we had bought a HE washing machine and the stuff he brought isn't really intended for a HE machine.

    The "guest service" overlord didn't give a rat's rear end that no one in their right mind had need of that much detergent and that we were perfectly happy to spend the money on stuff we actually needed that day but noooooooo...we couldn't be allowed the easy way out of the situation.

    It's really a shame because we prefer the quality of items at Target and I would have thought that a Minnesota corporation might have actually had Minnesotan values which are much more friendly than their "guest services" here seems to understand.

  • NeverSurrender Dec 7, 2007

    "I much prefer Target, and if they had made the Brier Creek store a SuperTarget, I would never have to step foot in Walmart again!"

    ---

    Target in their way can be just as unresponsive to customer needs as Wally World, if not more so. A case in point was my father bringing up about six boxes of diapers that he had bought at his Target.

    Unfortunately, he brought the wrong size and didn't include a gift receipt. So we figured it shouldn't be a big deal to do a straight-up exchange...we wanted the nappies but were interested in a size that would actually fit our children.

    You'd have thought that I was trying to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London! It took an hour of trying to explain to the "managers" that a size 3 nappie doesn't do much for you when your kid is in size 4! I finally prevailed but now I'm barred from making a return for a year because of their stupid policy of penalising the poor person just trying to make a purchase right for their needs!

  • BIGCHEESECAMATO Dec 6, 2007

    They need to be strick. It is really true that some people buy a whole lot just to load up under their tree to show off to people when they have company or christmas parties. Then the people can act like they are loaded and after Christmas they spend time taking back all those show-off gifts to the stores.

    Restocking fees started when sweet-daddies were buying big tv's for the Superbowl and the day after returning with silly excuses.

  • JennyT Dec 6, 2007

    I have never had a problem with returns at Target. They even do price adjustments -- even without the receipt if you paid with a credit or check card. Walmart blocked me two years ago for too many returns without a receipt. I DON'T STEAL!! They are awful. I much prefer Target, and if they had made the Brier Creek store a SuperTarget, I would never have to step foot in Walmart again!

  • 68_polara Dec 6, 2007

    I agree ncweddingdj cash is good for those that are hard to buy for but gift cards are not. I bought 3 gift cards for my nephews from toy's are us and after Christmas we went shopping. It was one of our worst experiences in my life at the check out. It turns out of the three of the cards only one was good, one had no money on it, another didn't have the full amount. They told me about a scam that has been occuring where some one writes down the card number while in a check out line and, after a short time, calls to see if the card has been activated (bought). When it's found to be activated the thieves go shopping on Toys are us's web site because there they only need the number and not the card its self to make purchases. The employees and manager didn't care, they were like, oh well too bad.

  • 68_polara Dec 6, 2007

    What really kills me and tells me that they really didn't care is that they know about this scam and while I was there I noticed that they still had the cards in the check out lines where anyone can right down the number. It was such a horrible case of customer no service that someone couldn't drag me back in to a toys are us.

  • ncweddingdj.com Dec 6, 2007

    Cash money. While it may lack "imagination" as a gift, it makes up for that in ease of use, not having to deal with return policies or bad fits or wrong color, etc. Still, if I am given a $20 I do have to get change to use it at Aunt Hannah's.

  • bluebird1075 Dec 6, 2007

    Southern Wisdom: AMEN!!!!

  • whatelseisnew Dec 6, 2007

    I have not set foot in a Sears, Kmart, or a Best Buy in several years. They have lost my business forever.

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