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Holiday gift returns start early

Holiday sales are up this year, but so are holiday gift returns. What's fueling the reversal?

By Giselle Smith Dec 16, 2011 5:33PM

For many Americans, gift returns are as much a part of the holidays as Black Friday, Christmas lights and eggnog -- but they usually don't come along until after Dec. 25. So what's happening this year?

Turns out not all of the people out in the stores and malls are coming home with more things (and less cash) than they had when they went in; many are bringing back the items -- TVs, toys and other gifts -- they purchased earlier in the shopping season.

In fact, a lot of people who rushed to get the best deals at much-hyped Thanksgiving weekend sales are experiencing a "holiday hangover," according to The Associated Press.  Post continues below.

Return rates increased when the recession hit and have stayed high. For every dollar stores take in this holiday season, they are expected to give back 9.9 cents on returns, the AP says. Last year's returns averaged 9.8 cents on the dollar. In better times, stores give back about 7 cents in returns.

Though retailers are understandably reluctant to talk about the number of returns this season, AP said companies such as GENCO ATC, and its parent company, Liquidity Sales -- which sell returned merchandise from retailers -- are expecting this holiday season to be especially good for their bottom line. said return rates are 12% to 15%, which is higher than last year and twice as high as pre-recession years. GENCO ATC also said stores are seeing a spike in returns.

Overall holiday sales are up

Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation has raised its 2011 holiday forecast to $469.1 billion, a 3.8% sales increase from 2010.

"After strong sales reports in October and November, along with a successful Black Friday weekend, retailers are cautiously optimistic that this season will turn out better than initially expected," said Matthew Shay, NRF president. The retail group's initial forecast, on Oct. 6, anticipated sales growth of only 2.8%, which still represented an increase over the 2.6% annual average for the past decade.

Also sounding like good news for retailers were the results of another NRF survey indicating that, as of the second week of December, the average American shopper had completed only 46.5% of his or her shopping, down from 49.5% at the same time in 2010. Nearly 37 million people (16.5%) had not even started their shopping as of late last week, while 7.6% say they have completely finished shopping.

But those sales figures are only good news if shoppers -- and gift recipients -- keep the merchandise.

Reasons for returns

When gifts are returned after the holidays, the reasons can usually be attributed to shopper error: The sweater didn't fit your sister; your nephew already had that Xbox game; the cookbook you bought for your girlfriend … what were you thinking?

But why return purchases before the big gift-giving days? Lack of money -- or buyer's remorse -- is one often-cited reason.

"When the bills come in and the money isn't there, you have to return," Jennifer Kersten, 33, of Miami, told AP. Kersten said she spent $300 on books, movies and clothes on Black Friday, then returned half of it last week.

Competition is also contributing to retailers' problems as savvy shoppers realize the "great deal" they got on Black Friday wasn't necessarily the lowest possible price for that HDTV after all.

In addition, many retailers are under pressure to match the low-hassle return policies of stores such as Costco, Nordstrom and L.L. Bean, which impose no time limit on most returns.

Check return policies before you buy

Returns cost stores money, and some charge a restocking fee to help offset those costs. To limit the number of returns, many stores impose strict time limits, and the clock often begins ticking on the date of purchase.

Which stores offer the best return policies? That depends on where you bought it, what you are returning and when it was purchased. Policies vary by type of product, with electronics often having much shorter windows for returns than items such as clothing and toys. In addition, many stores extend their deadlines during the holidays, understanding that a lot of items are purchased as gifts.

Macy's, Kohl's, REI and Zappos are also stores with good return policies, says blogger Chad Fisher at U.S. News & World Report.

Have you already returned any of your holiday purchases this year? If so, what prompted the return?

More on MSN Money:

Dec 16, 2011 8:41PM
I think this is wonderful!!!  People should have thought about what they were buying before they made those purchases.  First of all why should you even care what happens to those stores such as Walmart, Best Buy and other so called discount stores.  Do you really think they care about saving you money?  Think again everyone!  I think that more and more people should take their purchases back to the stores such as Walmart etc and refrain from those "impulse" buys they want you to make.  Realize this folks, these companies pay BIG money to figure out ways to add a psychological effect on your purchasing habits. This is all part of the marketing strategy that causes you to make those impulse buys. If you really knew how much profit companies that I mentioned make on those so called "sale" items, you would absolutely fall down in shock!  Everyone listen! With the economy the way it is, you really should think about "Need" versus "Want". DO NOT let want overrun the meaning of "Need". Also, that money you spent today, you might need that to pay bills and feed your family when you get laid off from your job within the next 4-6 months from now. Now which is more important, feeding your family and paying your bills or setting around a Christmas Tree an worrying about how you are going to make ends meet. Think about it!!!!   Sorry but I am going to be a scrooge this Christmas.
Dec 16, 2011 10:48PM
I personally didn't buy anything this season except for a box of cards to send out to family members wishing them a Merry Christmas. I'm refusing to sit in debt for half the year just because it's Christmas. I will enjoy a great dinner with my family and continue to boycott shopping this year.
Dec 17, 2011 1:07PM

This has been the worst year for my husband and I. Usually, Chrsitmas is very good, not expensive, but good. This year, there is no money. I have told all my family that I am sorry and that I love them very much, but it isn't happening. I simply explained that I cannot take on anymore debt and that what counts is that we are all here and together and that I hope they understand. They do!! My husband and I are OTR drivers now, but it will take time to catch up. We bought a GPS for the truck and a few new items of clothing &  that was our gift to each other. Things we needed.

People have totally gone crazy spending money they do not have, taking on so much more debt. It isn't fair to the people you owe money to. The best gift you can give is to make sure your family is feed, clothed and has roof over their head. They may not understand it now, but take them to a homeless shelter and see people who really have nothing. My new life is is I don't have the cash to buy it, I don't get it.

Dec 16, 2011 10:18PM
Thank goodness I cut up my credit cards over two years ago. If I don't have extra money in my account, I don't buy it. 

I was a bit put off this year at Park-Belk when I purchased a coat for my mother as a Christmas gift. The clerk suggested I apply for a store credit card and I would get an extra 20% off. I declined, she pushed. It took 10 minutes of my saying, "NO," before I could get my transaction completed and get the hell out of there. I'm short tempered at best, so that clerk should count herself as lucky. LOL

Retailers are coming across as a wee bit desperate this year. And John, I agree 100% with the suggestion that Wal-Mart is less than honest. It wouldn't surprise me one bit to learn they have ripped consumers off. I can honestly say I have not shopped at a Wal-Mart in over a year. However, they do carry the White Stag brand of women's clothing...made in the USA! Too bad most of their crap is made in China.
Dec 16, 2011 11:36PM
I do not buy for everyone in my family. I set a dollar amount for what I want to spend and I stick to it. I also do not get everything on a list. I hold on to that list because birthdays come up they can get it then. You do not have to out do yourself each year. Christmas is not about getting presents. To me it is spending time with loves one around you.
Dec 17, 2011 10:41AM

Get on a budget and stick to it. Grow up people.  

Dec 17, 2011 7:45AM

MelissaN, keep your receipt like a smart person and you'll have no problems returning things at Target.


I've worked for Target for over 4.5 years, so here's the deal - our return policy states NO returns without a receipt or receipt lookup, just like EVERY other retailer out there. We COULD stick to our printed policy and not do ANY returns without receipts. But, lucky for you, we make acceptions. Each guest can return up to $70 of merchandise per year without a receipt or receipt lookup (the 2 no-receipt returns per year rule hasn't been in effect since at least last Christmas). No-receipt returns do mean you'll get the lowest selling price of the last 90 days, but that's because there's no record of what you paid for it. It's to keep people from buying an item on sale, and then returning it later and getting the full price back. And yes, people WILL abuse the system if we allow them to. You also get store credit without a receipt, not cash, but that's what every retailer does.


Target also has a 90-day return window. That is a LONG time to return items. Most stores have a 30-day or maybe 60-day return period. Hell, I've shopped in stores with 14- and 7-day return periods. Ninety days is really, extremely generous.


Simply put: Target's return policies are actually pretty accomodating. Expecting us to take back everything you supposedly bought from us without any proof you DID buy it from us (and at the price you say you paid), however, is pretty naive. People would be abusing the system left and right if we did that, and Target would be out of business.



Dec 17, 2011 3:18PM

Don't blame the stores for making you think you NEED something. That's their job.  That's called "marketing". And every company YOU work for does the same thing.


Its YOUR choice to decide whether you NEED that item. People are returning things because they bought too much stuff and are now looking at the receipts and anticipating what their credit card statements are going to look like next month. It's the same reason the economy is in the state that its in. People overbought. Homes, cars, electronics, every thing their kids wanted, etc ON CREDIT.   That's the truth.


BUT I'm here to help! Here's a simple calculation you can use this season and in your life going forward.  It's my Christmas gift to you.  I call it "1-2 =3" and it works like this:


1: The amount you earn

2: Your necessary expenses (food, shelter, utilities, phone, cable, whatever your kids NEED, etc)

3: What you have left to do what you want (save or spend)  


Notice how there isn't a 4 (Credit/Loans to help pay for 2) . 


Leave it at 3 and you'll be fine. If you are light in the "3" area, adjust 2.   Economics 101.


Happy Holidays!!!


Dec 17, 2011 5:16PM
My wife handed control of the money to me when we got married. She said. I will spend it or waste to much money, as I am a tight wad ( squeaked when I walk as she put it ). But over the years I have learned to loosen up a little and she has learned to control herself on spending. We have set a limit to Christmas, we have stuck to it for the last 10 years. Of course we adjusted for inflation. We have never return anything we brought except if the item went on sell before Christmas like a third or half the price. Who in there right mind wouldn't get a lower price. One thing to point out we always paid CASH, what good is a sale if you have to pay all that interest for the goods on your card.
Dec 16, 2011 8:53PM
I couldn't have said it better!  I hope merchants who opened Thanksgiving evening are beseiged with returns.
Dec 17, 2011 7:14PM
People take a breather, give what you can, and be happy with what you get. Keep the spirt of christmas.
Dec 16, 2011 11:17PM

Hi jfencil78!


 I feel that what you are doing by refusing to shop this season is wonderful. If more would refuse to "set in debt" this season a strong message would be sent to the major retailers etc.  I can go on and on about knowing the difference between "Want" and "Need". Here is an experiment that I have had people try out.  You might be surprised how the results turn out.


When you feel that you really need to make a purchase:


1.  Go to the store where you want to make the purchase.

2.  Go to the isle where the item is and "Pick it up and hold on to it".  Do NOT put it in the basket because you do NOT want to become disassociated with the item.

3.  Walk around the store holding the item.  During the time you are walking around holding this item, think about the two terms "Want" and "Need". 

4.  Attempt to justify the real "Need" for the item while you are holding this item.

5.  Continue to do this for about 30 minutes.


Now here is where the interesting thing happens.  Chances are you are going to put that item back on the shelf where you found it or even set it down somewhere in the store. It is very important that you DO NOT put the item in the basket or cart during this experiment. 


Believe me you are going to be surprised how the "impulse buy" wears off and you realize that you do not really need the item. 



Dec 17, 2011 3:57PM
No one is responsible for there own action now days, people need to get a backbone and take charge of there own lives like the good ol days.
Dec 16, 2011 9:40PM
We're cutting way back this year too.  We have everything we need, and are treating ourselves to a few inexpensive "wants", but that's about it.   Both sides of our families have agreed on not exchanging or even doing a grab bag this year too.

The economy is still too iffy to go out and splurge, IMO.

Dec 17, 2011 3:20PM
The main problem I see with this whole thing, is this shows that Americans still don't get it. Stop putting everything on credit. Why are you paying all your hard earned money to these banks so you can pay ten times more money for something you don't need. Stop occupying Wall street and then paying millions of dollars in interest for garbage. Material things don't make you happy, they simply mask problems and for less and less time as the stress builds from all the debt you're all building. It's fun to go shopping and the holidays can be a great time, but use the money you have after you've payed your bills and taken care of your kids and if you don't have it then do something else. Make gifts and do something nice for someone. It's not about the "stuff". I swear you take God out of society and this is what happens. Even if you want to argue that God doesn't exist which I personally believe he does, if you take the actually "act" of God out of society then people just don't care anymore. Everyone is just doing whatever they want, spending hours a day looking at porn and buying all kinds of crap they don't need and you wonder why America is going into the crapper. Wake up!
Dec 16, 2011 9:53PM
I have one more comment to make.  Think about when you make a purchase and you request a "gift" receipt.  Have you ever given a thought on how this works?  You might want to start looking into it.  Right now there are several law firms, according to an online website, that have filed a class action lawsuit against Walmart asking the coursts to force Walmart to give up records on return items tha span a period of 6 years.  Now claims have been made that Walmart may have defrauded customers by not refunding "full" price for the item purchased.  If this is the case then Walmart is STILL making making a huge profit.  How does this happen you ask?  Well take a look at that receipt that you asked the check out attendent to print for you that is printed "Gift" on it. Chances are there is no price listed on that receipt that has "Gift" written on it.  Now let your thoughts be free on that little bit of information. Still think Walmart cares about you?  Live Better?  Save More?  I wonder! 
Dec 16, 2011 11:58PM
ugh boots for wife , bike short and helmet for me. end of christmas.  we are blessed for some reason, i'm thankful for health and my children.
Dec 16, 2011 9:45PM
The consumerism drugs just wore off thats all....Americans need the high but when the hangover appears they have to come 'down'.
Dec 17, 2011 7:48PM

Maybe the economy isn't near as good as the government would have us believe.


Lying government!!

Dec 17, 2011 3:36PM

I thought I would save time etc. shopping on-line , having it delivered to my door. Only to find out , a lot of shippers are doing what is called , UPS mail Innovations. ( ? ) What was weird was , I'd get some packages delivered to my home and some went to post office ( I have a p.o. box) so even the post office won't deliver to my home. I would Have to go and pick-up the package  at the post office. Plus , I'd get hit with postage due .This was after  , I paid Toys Rus for shipping. Then because it was supposed to come to my home and had physical address and No P.O. Box # on the package....I got hit with another charge .

I have spent more time making phone calls and trying to correct was a total waste of My time .KEEP READING IT GETS WORSE. ;(


Not one person I spoke with could tell me what was going on .

I will say , Toys Rus finally credited me back some of the extra shipping charges , but no -one there knew what I was talking about when I tried to explain it to them. I had to pay $5.35 postage due on a $3.59 item that I had already paid shipping on and then $14.04 on another Item , I paid $10.49 shipping on. There were more of the same , also...


Even stranger is the fact , if I ordered 2 items from same place. One would come to my door UPS and the other item went to the post office ( same day ).Postage due. After I had paid shipping charges.

This has happened 3 or 4 times now .


I am definitely thru with doing on-line orders........If , It didn't cost so much to return . I would send everything back and give cash for gifts .


Something else to watch out for is...When the store has on-line ordering and says , you can Return to store . Read the Fine print. They don't All give cash back. Most give Store credit. ;(


Also , if it says , Free shipping : Read the fine print . Free shipping has a long list of items excluded ..


So much for trying to make my life easier...It has been a living nightmare .


I can Understand Why the stores are going under...No -one can get it Right.

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