The big return begins

Nathan Baker • Dec 26, 2013 at 9:17 AM

To counterbalance the gleeful rush to the registers earlier this year during the holiday shopping season, millions of Americans are expected to make a despondent walk of shame this year to return defective or unwanted items to retailers.

The National Retail Federation estimates nearly $60 billion in holiday merchandise returns this year, or about 10 percent of holiday sales, down slightly from 2012.

In anticipation of the post-Christmas return rush, local stores have planned for additional personnel and updated their return polices.

“The day after Christmas is always a little bit wild,” Ed Zabel, connectivity sales manager of Best Buy Johnson City, said Tuesday. “We’re going to have plenty of registers running and more set up to handle returns and exchanges.”

To combat the nearly $3.5 billion in fraudulent returns expected this year, some stores, like Best Buy, have tightened their return policies.

Gifts bought between Nov. 3 and Dec. 31 at the electronics retailer can be returned until Jan. 15, nine days earlier than last year’s Jan. 24.

Other stores, from Sears to Toys“R”Us, have altered the length and scope of their polices or have instituted restocking fees, a recent survey by ConsumerWorld.org said.

The consumer-oriented website also found that most online retailers will allow returns at their physical stores, which may save individuals shipping fees.

Amazon, notably, charges a 50 percent restocking fee on open DVDs and CDs and 20 percent for late returns.

In all, the National Retail Federation found that 27 percent of stores surveyed planned to change their holiday return policies, while 72 percent did not.

Zabel said that the easiest way to ensure a hassle-free return is to come to the store prepared with a receipt and a form of identification.

“Receipts are the main thing,” he said. “It makes it much easier for us to pull up your transaction.”

If the items intended for return were gifts, he said a gift receipt is important, but the giver’s ID may help in making a return if one is not available.

For those hoping to avoid full parking lots and long lines, Zabel said it may be less stressful to wait a week after Christmas before braving stores.

“If they don’t mind crazy traffic, they can come in the day after Christmas,” he said. “But if they don’t want to wait in line, they should probably stay away until later in January.”

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