Lines move from check out counters to return counters

Return fraud costs retailers a lot—an estimated $15.5 billion in 2007—causing some retailers to enforce rather strict return policies. However, as retailers get a handle on the problem and strive toward making customers happy during this tough holiday season, they are relaxing the rules. In fact, the National Retail Federation survey found that more than half (52%) of retailers are adopting less stringent return policies during this holiday season.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of an unwanted gift, consider the following advice to make the return process as painless as possible.

-Read the fine print. If you have a receipt, it will likely contain information about the store’s return policy. If you do not have the policy in writing, check the store’s website for information. Pay particular attention to time limits. Note that some items are subject to a restocking fee.
-Watch the condition. Generally, you will have more luck if your returns are new, unused, and contain all original product packaging and accessories. Typically, a store will not accept returns of cds, movies, video games, or software if the item has been opened.
-Know the limits. Some gifts are not meant to be returned. For example, gift cards, pre-paid music cards, and phone cards are seldom returnable. Some clearance items are only refunded at the most current sale price. If an item is personalized, it is non-returnable (and non-regiftable!)
-Don’t make it a habit. According to Consumer Reports, many major retailers use software systems to monitor return behavior. For example, Wal-Mart’s system alerts cashiers to customers who return than three items without receipts within 45 days. Many other large retailers use the services of Return Exchange, which maintains return-tracking databases for stores.
-Consider alternatives. If you are unable to return an unwanted gift, consider selling the item to the highest bidder at one of the many online auction sites. If you have a gift card that you do not wish to use, sell it or trade it for something more to your liking at or You might also consider donating the item to a favorite charity. As the old saying goes, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’

Another alternative is to simply keep the gift you were given—especially if the item was purchased online. A 2007 survey conducted by PriceRunner, nearly 40% of respondents said they were not satisfied with the return process for items purchased online. Survey respondents said that they were unhappy about paying the shipping costs for returning the item and the time and hassle it takes to return an item.

Kim McGrigg is the former Manager of Community and Media Relations for MMI.

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.

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