Retailers say they expect to lose an estimated $3.48 billion because of fraudulent returns this holiday season, according to a new survey by the National Retail Federation. Some companies have fought fraud and abuse by tightening return policies, which may require shoppers who need to make legitimate returns to take some extra steps to get them approved. Here are five steps you can take for smoother returns:
- Know the time frame: Big merchants usually allow 90 days for returns of most items but might have far shorter periods for home and personal electronics, software, and CDs and DVDs. During the holidays, retailers sometimes extend deadlines. Electronics bought at Walmart usually must be returned within 15 or 30 days, for example, but if you buy between Nov. 15 and Dec. 25, the clock doesn't start ticking until Dec. 26.
- Get a receipt: Many merchants used to offer at least store credit to shoppers without one. Nowadays, more turn those people away. If you paid by credit card, debit card, or check and don't have a receipt, some stores will try to find an electronic receipt, but cash customers might be out of luck.
- Take your driver's license: Some companies, including Best Buy, require a government-issued ID with a receipt. (That way, they can track serial returners even if the transaction is in cash.)
- Be sure before you open the box: Merchants can't resell an item as new after the package has been opened, so they impose a restocking fee, usually 15 percent of the product's cost. The fees apply mostly to electronics, but Sears also charges for mattresses, built-in appliances, and special orders on hardware, sporting goods, and other merchandise. Items such as computer software, CDs, and DVDs aren't generally returnable once they're unwrapped. It might also be hard to return products with damaged packaging or missing tags.
- Know where to go: If you bought an item online and the merchant has walk-in stores, check the website to see whether you can return it at a store and avoid repacking, a post-office trip, and shipping fees.
Almost one in five Americans told us that they expected to return at least one holiday gift when we conducted a nationwide poll last year.
Merchants usually allow 90 days for returns of most items but might have shorter periods for electronics, software, CDs and DVDs. Many retailers impose a restocking fee, usually 15 percent of the product's cost, but these fees apply mostly to electronics. Sears, however, also charges restocking fees for mattresses, built-in appliances, and some special orders.