5 On Your Side

Retailers to rein in returns this season

Posted December 5, 2007 6:25 p.m. EST
Updated November 18, 2008 12:45 p.m. EST

— 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.