Mastering Holiday Returns

Tuesday, December 17, 2013 by

Retail, Organized Retail Crime, NRF, Holidays, Christmas

Key image for: Mastering Holiday Returns

In mid-August, when we were in the midst of school shopping and enjoying the last days of summer, Walmart began promoting its holiday layaway program. This was a record date. More than 100 days before Christmas, Kmart aired its first holiday advertisement in early September. 

According to the NRF, 41.2 percent of consumers stated that they would begin their holiday shopping prior to Halloween. The numbers this year are simply staggering. 12.4 percent of consumers actually began their shopping prior to September. And an overwhelming 30 percent of consumers had planned to begin their holiday shopping in September and October.

However, in spite of the extended holiday shopping season, retailers are cracking down on tightened return and exchange policies, due to the high rate of holiday return fraud. As retailers see competitors or stores with some of the most lenient policies tighten up, a standard for others to follow will be set. According to Phoenix retail consultant, Jeff Green, customers can expect these stricter return policies to spread, with a likely shift toward a shorter, 30-day return policy in 2014. In addition, consumers can also expect added scrutiny when making returns without a receipt.

As follows, is what consumers need to know before venturing out to make those post-holiday returns.

1.  Returning Without a Receipt

It is important to remember that without a receipt, most retailers will only grant the consumer the lowest selling price within the last 30 days, for the reason that the item could have been purchased at this price.

However, many retailers can now look up previous purchases made, but will need the credit card that was used to pull up the transaction. In this case, you could be reimbursed for the price that the item was purchased for.

In order for a consumer to improve upon getting full credit, a sales slip or gift receipt needs to be provided, and the item should be returned in new condition, unopened, and with all packaging material.  Returns without a receipt are subject to the posted return policy, which could result in consumers receiving only a merchandise credit for the lowest price the item has sold for recently, or possibly no refund or exchange at all.

2.  Be Prepared to Show ID

According to NRF's 2013 Return Fraud Survery, 5.8 percent of holiday returns are fraudulent, up slightly from 4.6 percent last year.

An agency called The Retail Equation collects data from participating retailers via a swipe of a driver's license. The information found on the license is collected into a database, and other stores operated by that particular retail company can use this information to deny a return. This system is used to prevent various problems, such as return fraud and wardrobing, which is defined as the practice of wearing clothes and returning them.

According to Kiplinger, nearly 10 percent of retailers require ID for returns made with a receipt, and 73 percent require ID for returns made without a receipt. Some scan the ID into their own system; while others send the info to a third party.

3.  Read the Fine Print

Best Buy has an “Extended Holiday Return Policy,” which means if you buy something between Nov. 3 and Dec. 31, you have until Jan. 31 to return it. Computers, however, are not covered under this special policy. You are only covered for 14 days to make a return on a computer. Staples maintains the same policy on computers and phones.

However, while Walmart typically only grants 15 days to return electronics, the store maitnains a holiday return policy special, where all electronics purchased between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 have until Jan. 10 to be returned. Under standard circumstances, Walmart grants consumers15 days to return electronics.

4.  Organizing Receipts with Return Apps 

As return policies within companies shift, the key to hassle-free returns will maintain that consumers organize receipts and returns. Featured in U.S. News & World Reports under the Top 13 Tech Tips for Holiday Shopping in 2012, The Return Guru app, free for iPhone and Android, allows for consumers to snap a picture of a receipt, and proceeds to save them and sets reminders as the deadline of the return date nears.

5.  Restocking Fees

Consumers should also be aware of restocking fees, which were implemented when people started buying large televisions before the Super Bowl and returning them directly after.

There is a 15% restocking fee at stores like Best Buy and Target on all opened electronics.

6.  Don't Cut That Tag: Maintain Items to Be Returned

Retailers suspect that about 3 percent of returns last year involved used clothes and stolen merchandise, or some other form of fraud, according to the National Retail Federation. Wardrobing is the practice of purchasing an item, using it, and then returning it to the store for a refund. This practice is most often done with expensive clothing, hence the name, but it can also be practiced with tools, cameras, and computers. Cracking down on refund fraud, stores like Bloomingdale's will no longer loan out their apparel, attaching three-inch black-plastic tags to visible places on clothing, like the front bottom hemline. These visible tags, once removed, cannot be reattached. However, there are still high end stores like Nordstrom, that are concerned with shaming guests who may spend thousands in the store, and therefore, they maintain their hassle-free return policy.

7.  Legalities on Returning Consumer Products

The state of Maine holds the following consumer protections laws: 

Consumers who encounter difficulty when returning a gift, should first contact the store manager or customer service department of the retailer. If a satisfactory resolution is not obtained, then a complaint can be filed with the state Attorney General's office or local consumer agency.

As a side note, stores in Maine are not required to give cash refunds. Only when a consumer immediately finds a serious defect and brings the item directly back to the retailer, is it required. If your item is not defective, then whether or not you can return it depends on the store's return policy.


Happy Holidays from the Retail Association of Maine!

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