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The most returned Christmas gifts

It's nearly universally understood that apparel is taken back most frequently. However, electronics may be catching up.

By Karen Datko Dec 21, 2011 11:59AM

Hate to be the one to tell you this, but someone on your Christmas list is going to return your gift to the store. And you may never know about it. A poll by Western Union last year said 75% of Americans have lied about liking a gift they did not.


Want to increase the chances that your carefully chosen gift will not be returned? Don't buy the most returned gift. Hands down, it's clothes and other apparel. It doesn't fit, the color is not right, it does make your butt look big, or it's just downright ugly.


There are other most returned gifts to avoid.


An oft-quoted report from about a survey conducted for Kohl's in 2008 found that these gifts were identified by respondents as most likely to be returned:

  • Clothing, 74%.
  • Items for the home, 11%.
  • Beauty or fragrance, 8%.
  • Electronics, 5%.
  • Jewelry or watches, 2%.

Those results were more or less supported by a January 2011 survey by MarketTools:

  • Clothing and shoes, mentioned by 62% of respondents.
  • Toys, games and hobbies, 16%.
  • Consumer electronics, 14%.
  • Kitchen and bath, 13%.
  • Beauty and cosmetics, 10%.
  • Jewelry and watches, 10%.

Other evidence suggests that electronics are moving quickly up the list of undesirables. Accenture says:

Customers returning electronics products will cost U.S. consumer electronics retailers and manufacturers nearly $17 billion this year, an increase of 21 percent since 2007. . . . These costs include receiving, assessing, repairing, reboxing, restocking and reselling returned products.

The return rate for electronics is between 11% and 20%. Although it's unclear why most are taken back, the vast majority are not defective.

Post continues below.

While unhappy recipients generally keep their disappointment close to the vest, one in five U.S. adults surveyed confessed to Consumer Reports they got a gift they didn't like. Here's what they did:

Eighteen percent donated it to charity; 15 percent re-gifted it to an unsuspecting family member, friend, or coworker; 11 percent returned the item to the retailer for a refund or merchandise credit, the same percentage . . . elected to toss the gift in the trash. Six percent tried to resell their lousy gifts.

Wait. It gets worse. Consumer Reports also says:

Some irked recipients chose a more brazen response. Two percent of those surveyed actually confronted the original giver to return an unwanted present. Another 2 percent retaliated with ridicule -- posting photos of the cringe-worthy item on the Internet.

Actually, return of gifts has already begun this year, and a relatively high rate of returns is expected. So keep these two important rules in mind:

  • If you're the giver, please DO include a gift receipt in the box. Hopefully the retailer won't pull a fast one and give the returner a post-holiday sale price, rather than cash or credit for the price you paid.
  • If you realize a present is not what you want, DO NOT open the manufacturer's box it came in, particularly if it's something electronic. The store may charge a restocking fee or not accept the return at all if it's been opened.

Should you be embarrassed about taking it back? Apparently not, but you still are, according to a American Express survey:

Most consumers say they are not concerned by the prospect of a friend or family member returning a gift. While more than half of holiday gift givers (56%) don't care, most recipients are still unlikely to confess to a loved one that their gift was returned to the store (59%).

So what's really the worst gift you can give? According to, it's a gift that can't be taken back to the store. "Never, never, never give the gift that can't be returned," Lee Standberry wrote. "We live in the age of self-indulgence -- it's sad but, nevertheless, true."

More on MSN Money:

Dec 22, 2011 11:22PM
I love Christmas but hate the presents and the shopping. Why do people feel the need to buy everyone they ever met cheap, tacky junk that they themselves would not want? I've asked and been told that "It's not the gift. It's the thought that counts." Well most of these gifts don't look like any thought was put into them beyond, "I gotta hurry and get that person something so I can check them off my list." I don't want moldy boxed candy from last year, or poorly painted Hummel knock offs, or a plastic fish that used to sing but now just twitches and croaks like it's dying. I don't want a sequin leotard that has obviously been regifted over and over since the 70's. (Yes, I have received all of the above and all of the above went into the trash.) I would rather get nothing more than Christmas greetings as long as the sentiment is honest. I like the decorations and parties and carols but not all the senseless junk swapping.
Dec 21, 2011 5:55PM

In our family, Christmas presents are for children under 18. We don't go crazy buying gifts for aunts and adult brothers and sisters.  Gifts to adults, if we wish to give them, tend to be gifts of time, effort or assistance.  I am also a crafter and knitter, but I don't give those gifts for Chritmas - it gets too crazy trying to  make everything of similar effort, time and cost for each person in time for the holiday.  If I see some yarn that matches my sister's new coat - I make it for her because I want to - not because she's expecting it for some holiday. (and if it takes me 6 months to make it, then I'm not on a holiday deadline) 


What is a 'Gift' supposed to represent anyway?  I think it's supposed to represent our affection and regard for the recipient.  So what better gift is there than one of  time and effort?


My Mom is 87 - she's been 'downsizing' her 'stuff' for years and repeatedly says she doesn't want any more 'things'.  She's right - for years we tried to buy her gifts, but I could see them just sit around and eventually  end up in my garage sales or given away. All of us 'kids' are adults with grown kids now; because I live closest to Mom, I help her maintain her home, play hours and hours of Scrabble and Canasta with her, and go shopping with her.  My brother lives an hour away - he makes sure she has transportation to all the major family events and helps with major maintenance of her home - like installing a new AC unit and new hot water heater.  He also manages her retirement funds now that Daddy is gone, so she can live comfortably. My sister lives across the country, and has only be able to come visit occasionally - but she calls Mom a couple of times a week, sends her funny little care packages and lap quilts she makes ( at 87, mom is always cold!).

Mom says these 'gifts' are more priceless to her than anything ever bought in a store.

Dec 21, 2011 5:34PM
The best gift is a consumable gift.  Give a pair of tickets to anything the receiver likes.  Baseball, hockey, theater, movies, roller rin, museums.  You get the idea.  Anything that gives them a memory and doesn't need to be dusted, stored or regifted. 
Dec 23, 2011 10:54AM
When my adult children ask me what I want for Christmas, it's always the same phrase year after year.  A happy, healthy has become a joke to them now cuz every year they ask me and every year I say the same my job they are always wanting to have a big Christmas party and bring presents.  fortunately this year we adopted a family for Christmas that otherwise wouldn't have been able to afford it.  that's the spirit of Christmas if you ask me.  serve others.  that's what Jesus is all about
Dec 21, 2011 3:21PM
What ever happened to the Christmas holiday being magical and a treat. WIth all the hype about sales and shopping till you drop, the real meaning has gotten lost...really lost! I have had family members say some very rude things when given gifts, and they dont even pretend to be ashamed of it! Wheteher its a five dollar gift or a five hundered dollar gifts we should be thankful the person even considered us at all! I feel like one in a million in this generation of thirty somethings, please people start believing in something other than retail therapy!
Dec 23, 2011 11:54AM
Wow!   Six percent throw it in the trash and two percent throw it at the giver.- we really are becoming a spoiled and ungrateful bunch. That would be the last gift that person ever received from me. No excuse ever for behaving that way, just keep quiet and pass it along to someone who will appreciate it or donate it to the less fortunate. 
Dec 21, 2011 10:42PM
Do people really post their displeasure with a gift online?  Sounds a little extreme to turn something like gift giving or an unwanted gift into a public flogging of sorts.  Why go to all that trouble just because you're unhappy with somebody's gift to you?  Sounds immature to me. 
Dec 21, 2011 6:09PM

My siblings and I weren't allowed to return gifts when we were kids because our parents said it was rude.  They'd say it's not about what you want to receive but what the giver wants you to receive.  To this day I seldom return a gift and my wife thinks it's crazy.

Dec 21, 2011 3:49PM

It is unfortunate people feel and is by our society put under such pressure to buy, buy, and buy, at this time of year, often with funds they don’t have or need for REAL needs.  My kids asked me what I wanted for the holidays… They said I deserve so much and wanted to go all out. All are doing OK, but things are tight for a lot of people, so I asked for what I think is the best gift of all, I asked for their time and companionship for the holidays, a card Handmade if possible, a ornament for the tree that they think reflects them so I will think of them year after year as we put up our tree… This holiday is for family and for Christians the birth of Christ, Everyone needs to remember that. It’s Christmas not buy as much as you can Crapmas…. Happy Holidays all, and remember being with the people you care about is more important than any TV no matter how many inches across….

Dec 21, 2011 3:17PM
Buy your friend a fine bottle of wine a couple of beautiful new wine glasses Guaranteed will not be returned
That only works if you know your friend likes wine. I rarely drink and can't stand any wine I've tasted, so I can guarantee if I got a bottle as a gift it would be regifted Wink

Best bet: Only buy gifts for people you know well. Don't know what someone likes or doesn't like? You probably don't know them well enough for them to care that you didn't get them anything.
Dec 21, 2011 6:29PM
Well, they can't return homemade gifts and those are the kind that truly show thoughtfulness. Nothing says Merry Christmas like a nice basket of baked goods! For adults, breads and healthy muffins might be preferable to treats. For a grandmother, perhaps a photo album of the grand kids. If you choose to spend, an event or service is a good choice. Just make sure there is flexibility on when it can be used. 
Dec 23, 2011 9:56AM

Christmas = spirit

Rather than buying a bunch of "junk"; spend time at ahomeless shelter, nursing home or animal shelter.  Donate time and unwanted items to those folks - I don't know about you, but the indigent and incapable appreciate these things much more than my family does.

Poster insain 1 - I want to join your family - you have the spirit!

I hear people all of the time, so disrespectful and unappreciative.  My husband and I were at rock bottom at one point in the early 2000's and gave the kids these really cool GI Joe action figures that had all kinds of accessories, like paratroopers, tanks, etc and were laughed at because they weren't GI Joe 'brand'.  Bought other family members electronics and was scoffed at for that as well.  So, at this point, we would rather donate our time and resources to a charitable cause than to spend time with people who are too material, superficial, and unappreciative to celebrate what Yule is all about.  Yep, keep living that dream......I think more people will wake up (hopefully).

Happy Holidays to all

Dec 21, 2011 5:29PM
If you have to get a woman alcohol to get sex, you have some issues and I think you may have missed the entire point of Christmas.  But then so have most people.
Dec 21, 2011 3:50PM
How about we stop giving gifts all around. This has become a holiday full of selfish greedy actions.
Dec 21, 2011 3:04PM

These articles are so confusing.  Gift cards are bad, cash is bad, this percentage of people are going to return your gift.  As a consumer we are being told what?  Your damned if you do or damned if you don't?  With another article about stores and their not so nice return with a gift receipt (not giving back the money you paid for it), its really a wonder that we can feel good about the thought of giving.


OOOh wait, it's the "thought" of giving.  What if all of us "thought" of giving that PICKY person something and just gave them a card with a "thoughtful" wish.  But then they might not like the card we sent them. Yes I'm being sarcastic LOL


I hope everyone out there has a great Holiday!  Don't stress over the perfect gift, looks like it's probably going to get returned anyway. :)



Dec 21, 2011 4:31PM

Since I've been informed it's considered unmannerly to


A. Tell people not to buy me anything for, really, I don't want anything

B. Send out a list of items I do not want to be given

C. Ask for cash


then I take the presents I receive with a smile.  Within a month, I've given at least half of them to Goodwill, returned them to the store or regifted them.


I find rather absurd the emphasis on "Buy!  Buy!  Buy!" to the point of people just buying stuff without putting thought into the purchase.


I don't need nor want any cheap crappy flavored coffee gifts or cheap "bath and beauty" products.  Nor do I desire people to buy me clothes...buying clothes for people is an effort doomed to fail almost every time.  My house is small - there is no room for cute "knick knacks".  By cupboards are small, I have no room for cooking Uni-taskers.  I have a drawer full of pajamas, scarves, gloves, wool slipper socks - how many more do I need? 


I would gladly receive a card that says X dollars have been donated to Y charity in my name instead of some useless item.  In fact, I would probably cheer.


I buy gift certificates for people for Christmas from local restaurants that they like.  Keep money in small businesses.  Or I overhear them say, "I've been wanting to buy _______", so I buy it for them instead.


As far as wine, as many people mentioned, I am a beer girl myself.  I will use wine to cook with.  But even with that, there's only so much I need. A gift of wine usually gets transported and abandoned at the closest party after Christmas that I attend.



Dec 21, 2011 4:23PM

"I have to agree with urapinb.....we need to STOP giving gifts.   Most people, especially children, have forgotten the REAL meaning of Christmas other than getting "presents."    It's getting so commercialized that it's frightening!   Just ask ANY child what Christmas means and you will be surprised at their answer!"

**Its all in how you raise them.

Dec 21, 2011 3:46PM

Giving to someone who has everything is a wast of time, they never really appreciate it! I'd rather give to someone in need.

Dec 21, 2011 3:49PM

"The return rate for electronics is between 11% and 20%. Although it's unclear why most are taken back, the vast majority are not defective. "


Easy.  I tried to buy my daughter an electronic device, only to find that since it was a "hot toy", ONE person had gone in on black friday and bought out TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS worth of this device, not leaving one for anyone else.  He actually told the clerks that he was going to sell them on eBay.


Guess what the guy in question is going to do with this electronic device if he has any left over on December 26th?


Wise up, stores.  Limit sale quantities.  Fewer upset customers.  Fewer disappointed kids.  Fewer returns.

Give them a gift card. They'll get twice as much with it after Christmas at the sales.
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