Gift returns rampant as holiday sales slip [The Star, Shelby, N.C.]By Matthew Tessnear, The Star, Shelby, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Dec. 26--Nathan Walker carried a handful of shopping bags toward the Shelby Wal-mart entrance Wednesday.
The bags were filled with clothes that didn't fit and multiple duplicate movies he received for Christmas gifts.
Walker hoped to exchange the clothes and return the movies.
"I usually have to head back to the stores after Christmas," he said. "There's always at least several gifts that aren't quite right. Gift cards are always nice to see on Christmas because you know you won't have to do this and return those."
Americans were expected to begin returning $62.7 billion in holiday merchandise Wednesday, according to the National Retail Federation.
Several of Cleveland County's bigger retail stores attracted long lines Wednesday at customer service counters. Near midday, 10 people were lined up each at Kmart and Wal-mart customer service centers. A man at Walmart pushed a bike he planned to return.
At Cleveland Mall, more people appeared to be seeking after-Christmas deals than returning items, despite news this week that U.S. holiday sales grew at their weakest pace since 2008.
Sales in the two months before Christmas increased 0.7 percent from the same period last year, according to the MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, a report that tracks spending on popular holiday goods.
Many economic experts had expected retail sales to grow 3 to 4 percent during this year's holiday season, but they reported this week that sales were hurt by poor weather including Hurricane Sandy and consumers' continuing uncertainty about the economy.
Susan Jones said she didn't change her holiday spending habits this year. She carried a couple items into Cleveland Mall to return Wednesday.
The National Retail Federation estimates shoppers returned one of every 10 Christmas gifts last year and predicts that rate to increase this year.
"I'd rather go ahead and get it done today so I won't have to worry about it later or forget," Jones said of the return process. "I'll be heading to Gaffney to the Outlets next. I'm pretty much spending my day making the returning rounds."
Reach Matthew Tessnear at 704-669-3331, at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MatthewTessnear.
Still have items to return?
The National Retail Federation's 2012 Return Fraud Survey reports retailers lost about $8.9 billion to return fraud so far this year. Retailers report about 5 percent of holiday returns are fraudulent. Several national retailers have implemented stricter return policies in order to prevent return fraud during the holidays.
-- Sears shortened its regular return policy for many product categories from 90 days to 60 days.
-- Target tightened its return policy for computers and tablets, cameras and electronics, which now must be returned in 30 days. Opened items may not get a refund or exchange at all.
-- Best Buy extended its regular return period to 60 days for some Reward Zone members, but Best Buy notes the Premier Silver member -- not the gift recipient -- must make the return.
-- Toys R Us now accepts electronics and similar items for return, even if the package was opened.
Source: Associated Press
Tips for making returns
-- Know the policies -- You may only be able to take the item to return at the physical store location. Other stores allow you to send with a pre-paid postage slip. You may not be able to return an item at all, depending on policies.
-- Keep a paper trail -- Keeping a receipt dramatically increases your chance of a successful return.
-- Be smart -- Don't wear it. Don't damage it. Increase the changes of a successful return by maintaining the original integrity of a product.
-- Be a pleasant, polite customer -- If returning in-store, a successful return is more likely if you don't add to the stress store clerks are already experiencing from crowds returning items.
Source: National Consumers League
More about returns
-- 65 percent of holiday shoppers said they didn't return a single gift after Christmas 2010.
-- Retail companies absorb as much as 12 percent of clothing returned and as much as 50 percent of the cost of returned consumer electronic merchandise.
-- 60 percent of retailers report they have been the victim of "wardrobing," which is the use of high-end clothing and electronics which are then returned for full price after they are used for a short period of time.
-- The U.S. retail industry lost $8.9 billion so far this year to return fraud, $3.48 billion in the 2011 holiday season alone and $3.73 billion in 2010.
Source: National Retail Federation
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