Retailers prepare for holiday gift returns

Retailers urge Christmas gift givers to hold onto receipts or give gift receipts with their presents to ensure easy returns if needed. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

Retailers urge Christmas gift givers to hold onto receipts or give gift receipts with their presents to ensure easy returns if needed. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

ALBANY — With Christmas comes the giving of gifts, and the giving of gifts often comes with holiday gift returns, with major retailers in Albany gearing up to handle post-holiday return traffic.

For many stores, handling customers who are coming in to return items can be just as challenging as helping shoppers find the right gift ideas.

According to the National Retail Federation, retailers nationwide expect to lose roughly $3.4 billion this holiday season to return fraud, making the handling of returns critical to businesses.

Despite the potential for fraud, however, many retailers realize the handling of returns can have an impact on customer service as well.

While some retailers have gotten more strict with their return policies, many stores relax their policies to make easier for customers to return unwanted gifts.

Many retailers like Dillard’s and Sears require that customers have original purchase receipts, gift receipts or some other proof of purchase to make exchanges, while retailers such as Walmart, Kohl’s, Belk, Target and JC Penney do not have a specific policy requiring receipts.

Store policies regarding time frames during which returns can be made also vary from retailer to retailer, as do the time frames around certain items.

For example, different items purchased at Sears can be returned within either, 30, 60 or 90 days from the date purchased, depending on the item.

The same is true at Walmart, which allows most items to be returned up to 90 days from the purchase date, with the exception of electronics, most of which are required to be returned within 15 days.

In addition to Walmart and Sears, Dillard’s and Target also have return policies that state items need to be returned within a certain time frame.

That said, many retailers are willing to make exceptions under certain circumstances.

“We know it’s Christmas, so we will make some exceptions,” said Dillard’s Operations Manager Kevin Raible. “We listen to everybody and try to keep everybody happy. As long as it’s resellable we’ll work with people.”

Like Dillard’s, Kohls strives to make gift returns as painless as possible for customers and therefore does not stipulate any specific time frame for returning items and will also take returns without a receipt.

“Kohl’s has a good return policy,” said Konesha Gammage who works in the store’s customer service department in Albany. “We really want it to be no problem, no hassle.”

According to Store Manager Cheryl James, Belk in Albany also tries to make returning items as easy as possible on customers.

James said every situation is different, but typically the store can handle returns regardless of the time since the purchase was made or whether or not a customer has a receipt.

However, like other stores, returns as Belk are always easier if customers have a receipt.

“Gift receipts are the main thing,” James said. “Gift receipts will make lives really, really easy. With a receipt the process should be really smooth.”

In addition to having receipts, here are some other tips that customers can keep in mind when having to make a return this holiday season:

—Check out each store’s policy before trying to make a return. Most stores advertise their return policies online and many retailers offer special return policies for the holidays. For example, both Walmart and Sears have extended item return periods for certain items.

—Some items purchased online can be returned in a physical store, while others cannot.

—Many stores have stringent return policies that apply to music, movies, video games and other electronics and software items.

—To avoid long wait times customer should try not to make returns the day after Christmas as many retailers have already begun “after Christmas” sales that bring increased traffic into stores.

—Most stores that sell firearms and ammunition have policies stating all sales on those items are final.

—Stores may charge a restocking fee for some items

—Many stores will accept other proof of purchase documentation if customers do not have receipts or gift receipts.

—Many stores offer multiple exchange options, including allowing simple item exchanges, placing return balances on in store gift card or like tender exchanges such as refunding items for cash when originally purchased with cash.