Shoppers, Don't Fear the Return Counter

Many retailers loosen return policies this year

Tuesday, Dec 23, 2008  |  Updated 9:51 PM CDT
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Shoppers, Don't Fear the Return Counter

Getty Images/Justin Sullivan

With an unknown number of retailers teetering on the edge of going out of business, a gift card would be an unwise investment.

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Returning holiday gifts can a hassle, but consumers have more clout than ever.

But many retailers are loosening their return policies this year because of the tough economy.

"The marketing people have got to do something to get consumers in the door, and they're thinking of out-of-the-box ways to do it," said consumer advocate Cheryl Jackson, of SistersofSavings.com.

According to a survey by the National Retail Federation, 52 percent of all U.S. retailers will make it easier for shoppers to return items this holiday season.

Ways retailers can ease their policies include giving customers more time to return items or being more forgiving if they don't have the receipt.

"Even if you don't have the receipt, they're saying you can bring it back," Jackson said.

Some stores now consumers give 90 days or more to return an item.

"Ninety days -- (it) used to be seven days, so that tells you what the difference is," Jackson said.

But not all retailers are following the trend. In the same survey, the National Retail Federation found that 17 percent of stores will tighten their return policies this year.

Swoozie's is one chain with a lenient return policy. Manager Christi Middleton it's a matter of service and survival.

"If you make them happy, they come back, and that's what you want, especially in today's times," she said.

Among larger retailers, consumer Web site walletpop.com gives top marks to policies to Macy's, Kohl's, Barnes And Noble, Toys 'R' Us and the Gap.

Wherever shoppers buy, they should know the rules before making a purchase.

If consumers need to return something, Jackson said they should keep one thing in mind.

"Everywhere you go, you can walk in and know, 'They need me,'" she said.

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