BOSTON (12/26/07)--Despite a decrease in holiday gift returns, more retailers are ratcheting up their return requirements, largely to curb abuse by serial returners (Bostonherald.com
Dec. 17). Many returns are legitimate, but too many consumers abuse easy return policies, and some criminals who steal merchandise try to return items for store credit. Because of the abuse, everyone pays. When you return items, some retailers now use your driver’s license to see if you’re on a “blacklist” of serial returners. If you exceed the retailer’s return limit, the store won’t allow you to return the item. Some stores don’t disclose their return limit, and others do so inconspicuously on signs and on the back of receipts. An example of a return “cap” may limit you to five returns within any 90-day period with a receipt, or cap the amount at, say, $300 without a receipt. Between 4% and 6% of holiday gifts make it back to the return counter each year (National Retail Federation
Dec. 11). But as gift cards continue to increase in popularity, the tide is turning: 64.3% of consumers didn’t return anything last holiday season, up slightly from 62.4% in 2005. The use of gift receipts also has helped reduce return headaches. If you think you’ll be standing in the post-holiday return line, keep these pointers in mind:
* Organize receipts. This is still the best route to a hassle-free return. If you don’t have one, or if you lost it, ask whether you can have merchandise credit. However, you may get credit for the lowest markdown price within the past 30 days or so. * Return sooner rather than later. You can take advantage of extended store hours immediately after Christmas. * Check time restrictions. Check state laws--you may have a choice of a repair, replacement, or refund. * Ask about restocking fees. It’s best to know store policy before you finalize the purchase. * Don’t open the box. Try to keep all the original packaging, all parts, and tags. Some retailers will reject the return if the item isn’t in the original package. If you know you’ll be taking the item back to the store, don’t use it or play with it. * Know where to complain. If you run into problems, start with the store manager or retailer’s customer service department. If those avenues don’t work, file a complaint with your state attorney general’s office or local consumer protection agency.
For more information, read “’Tis the Season for Trouble-Free Shopping, Returns” in Home & Family Finance Resource Center.