The National Retail Federation offers the following tips for stress-free returns after the holidays:
1. Know the retailer’s return policy before buying an item. Most retailers have return policies prominently displayed. If policies are not displayed, ask a sales associate or a manager to explain them or check online.
2. Save and file all receipts. Some retailers will allow consumers to exchange merchandise without a receipt, but often will provide only merchandise credit for the lowest markdown-price at which the item was sold during the holiday season.
3. Provide all original packaging and parts (including tags) when giving a gift. Some retailers won’t accept returns unless the item is in its original package. If planning to take back a gift after it is unwrapped, resist the urge to open or play with it.
4. Make online returns easy. When buying a gift online, consider the following:
• Know the process: Who pays for return shipping — the buyer or merchant? Some merchants will pick up the delivery charges for exchanges, but not for returns; others offer free return shipping on every return.
• Where to make returns: Does the retailer have a physical store, and can returns or exchanges be made there? Have the correct address if mailing returns back. Some merchants have offsite service centers to handle returns that may be in a different location from where the merchandise is sent.
5. Be patient. Remember, the week after Christmas is one of the busiest of the year for retailers. With people’s frustration high and tolerance low, be patient when returning merchandise.
As last-minute shoppers scramble to finish off their Christmas lists, retailers are counting the hours until the days following Saturday.
Filled with returns, exchanges, deep discounts and gift card spending, the week after Christmas can be as busy as those leading up to it.
“Retailers are going to see the 27th being a really busy day,” said John Heavener, president of the Georgia Retail Association.
“Returns are still a big issue for retailers and a major cost after the holidays ... and you’re going to see returns through January without a doubt.”
As the popularity of gift cards soars, some retailers have noticed fewer returns.
“The day after Christmas is a heavy day for returns, but still returns in general are less than they would have been previous to gift cards,” said Steve Reid, manager of the Super Target on Market Place Boulevard in Cumming.
Return policies vary by business. That’s one reason retailers recommend giving gift receipts with holiday presents. They also encourage those making an exchange or return to bring the receipt along to expedite the process.
“A lot of retailers are now asking customers if they want a gift receipt. It’s very common now,” Heavener said. “I look for that to be more prevalent as a lot of people are becoming savvy shoppers.”
Reid said gift receipts “speed up the process in the event the guest would want to make a return.”
“Gift receipts are always a good idea,” he said.
According to a National Retail Federation study, about 61 percent of shoppers provide a gift receipt and about one-third returned at least one gift they received last holiday season.
At Parsons Gifts & Collectables in Cumming’s Lakeland Plaza, post-Christmas shoppers do much more exchanging than returning, said Cris Willis, co-owner.
“A lot of the times, we sell like Vera Bradley and someone gets them the wrong color and they want a different color, or in Pandora we sell a ton of bracelets and it’s a guessing game as to what size wrist the person has,” she said.
“They also may come in and may be exchanging one thing, but then they’re finding something else.”
Just as people will run out the day before Christmas for gifts, there are also shoppers who start buying in October, Willis said.
For those shoppers, Parsons has created a special return policy.
“We have a 30-day return policy, but a lot of times people do their Christmas shopping early,” Willis said. “So we tell them if they’re buying then, they still have seven days after the holiday for returns and exchanges.”
To help reduce the lines after Christmas, the retail federation recommends customers with returns make sure they have gift receipts and all original packaging and parts.