taupe twin-set you picked out for her? Think again. Clothes and shoes are the gifts that are returned to stores most often after the holiday season.
According to a recent MarketTools study, apparel accounted for 62 percent of returned gifts last Christmas. Other presents that customers also brought back (but far less frequently) were:
Toys and games (16 percent)
Electronics (14 percent)
Kitchen and bath products (13 percent)
Cosmetics and beauty products (10 percent)
Jewelry and watches (10 percent)
All of those returns wreak havoc on retailers' bottom lines. Data from the National Retail Federation shows that, thanks to returned merchandise, stores will lose about 9.9 cents for every dollar's worth of stuff they sell -- up from about 7 cents per dollar in years past. Stores are expected to take in about $469 billion during the holiday season, which means that they'll be losing about $46.4 billion when customers want their money back.
And this year is shaping up to be even worse than before.
"This is going to be a record year for returns," Bill Angrick, CEO of auction house Liquidity Services, told the Associated Press. "People are still reluctant to spend." He said that his four U.S. warehouses are filled with returned electronics that they're waiting to auction off, and that return rates are about double what they were when the economy was good a few years ago.
Some retailers are tightening their return policies in advance of the post-Christmas rush. Consumerworld.org points out that Target, which used to allow 90 days for customers to return certain big-ticket items, now will only accept returns for 45 days after purchase. Toys-R-Us stores won't take back electronics if the packages have been opened. Both Target and Walmart now only offer limited returns if you don't have a gift receipt. J.C. Penney, Macy's and Express require that "special-occasion" dresses be returned with the original tag still attached, in order to deter one-time wearing, and Amazon.com now has not one, but 30, different product-specific return policies.
In a twist, many shoppers who took advantage of the massive Black Friday sales after Thanksgiving are finding themselves short on cash with Christmas around the corner, and are returning items instead of giving them as gifts.
The big buyers-remorse return? Personal electronics. Companies that make tablet computers, televisions, smartphones, and other high-end gadgets are expected to lose about $17 billion on returns, according to a new survey by Accenture Research. That's a 21 percent increase since 2007.
Twenty-seven percent of people returning electronics admit that they wished they hadn't bought them in the first place. Just 5 percent of the people who wanted their money back said that the gadget didn't work -- but, after testing, two-thirds of those supposedly defective items were found to have been just fine after all.
"When the bills come in and the money isn't there, you have to return," Jennifer Kersten, 33, of Miami, told the Associated Press. She said that she binged on books, movies, and clothes for her nephews, dropping $300 on Black Friday. But less than two weeks later, she returned half of it.
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