How to Handle Holiday Returns Without Hassle
Now it's time for disgruntled gift recipients to find out.
A Consumer Reports survey found that one in five Americans, or nearly 50 million, expected to return a Christmas gift last year. Roughly the same percentage of all adults were stuck with a bad gift the year before, though 18% donated the offending present, 15% re-gifted it and 22% either returned it or just threw it out.
That led to 9.9% of all holiday purchases being returned to retailers last year, up 9.8% from a year earlier and a scant 8.8% back in pre-recession 2007. In all, consumers brought back $46.3 billion in presents last year, a significant increase from the $39.7 billion in products they returned five years ago.
That's a small Christmas miracle, considering how much easier presents were to return half a decade ago. About 83% of retailers aren't tweaking their return policies this year, according to a National Retail Federation holiday survey, but that's only after 25% tightened restrictions in 2006 and another 17% made returns more difficult during the recession-hit 2008 holiday season. Another 7% tightened restrictions this year.
With policies changing, restocking fees increasing and the odds stacking up against consumers with returns, is there any easy way to get rid of a bad gift? With help from consumer experts, we came up with five ways to attack holiday returns and leave with the gifts you actually wanted:
Keep an eye on the calendar
As soon as you leave the store with a present, you start the countdown to its return date.
Target (TGT) , for example, has cut its return window for laptops, e-readers, tablets, cameras and camcorders from 45 days to 30 this year. Sears (SHLD) , meanwhile shortened its regular return window for many items from 90 days to 60 days and cut its extended holiday return period from 120 days across the board to 30- and 60-day categories that can be returned until Jan. 24.
Wal-Mart's (WMT) return policy is 90 days for most items, but the clock doesn't start ticking on goods bought after Nov. 1 until Dec. 26. After that, you have 15 days to return products such as computers, cameras and GPS devices and 30 days for a second-tier category that includes garden supplies, hardware and other goods. Macy's (M) has no return deadline for most goods, but customers have exactly three days to take back a piece of furniture.
This year, some retailers have put time back on the clock and made it worth a consumer's time to give return policies another look. Best Buy (BBY) extended its regular policy 60 days for some members of its Reward Zone program, while Toys R Us now offers its 45-day electronics return policy even if the package has been opened -- which not the case a year ago. The biggest change came from Amazon (AMZN) , which did away with its 30 category-specific return policies and implemented a flat Jan. 31 return deadline for most items shipped between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31.