The Point of No Return
I admit it. I'm a serial returner.
It's not that I can't make up my mind. In fact, by the time I reach the cashier, I've often gone through so much deliberation, I couldn't be more certain of the rightness of my purchase.
But then I get home.
What can I say? I'm a very remorseful shopper.
The good thing about being a serial returner is that I pay more attention to what a store's return policy is before I buy anything there.
The bad thing about being a serial returner is that at some point, apparently, my returning days are going to end.
Because of concerns about fraud, 25 percent of retailers told the National Retail Federation that they planned on restricting their return policies this holiday season.
Holiday shopping requires a whole other level of return policy consciousness. In your attempt to bestow a gift on someone, you may also be saddling them with long lines, restocking fees, or worst of all, a defective product.
ConsumerWorld.org may have spared us some grief over returns gone awry. In its annual survey of return policies, the site lists holiday return policies for major retailers such as Amazon.com, Target and Circuit City. Consumer Reports' shopping blog has also put together a handy guide to return policies for a few select retailers.
Some highlights from these blogs:
* The Limited, which years ago let you return most merchandise at any time, now has restrictions. You can make five returns within any 90-day period with receipt or for up to $300 without a receipt.
* Amazon now deducts 20 to 50 percent for certain returns made after 30 days.
* SmartBargains.com will keep any goods returned twice after 30 days and provide no credit for such items.
* Buy.com applies "special return policies" to some items such as "over-sized TVs" (27 inches and larger), which can't be returned at all. According to CR, you have to inspect the TV before the shipper leaves and refuse damaged goods at that time. After that, you have to deal with the manufacturer and its warranty. "Deal of the Day" and Clearance Store items are returnable only if defective.
It's worth noting that online return policies can differ from those of brick-and-mortar stores. For instance, if you try to return items that were shipped for free, you could be charged for the return, even if the item is defective.
If you try to return a gift at a store and are turned down, it could be because you've landed in the crosshairs of Return Exchange, a company that tracks returns for major retailers such as Express, KayBee Toys and Staples. If you are asked to present a government-issued photo ID when you make a return, chances are Return Exchange has got your digits.
The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse has concerns about retailers outsourcing the collection of personal information. So, if you find yourself unable to make a return, you should call Return Exchange at (800) 652-2331 and request a "return activity report" -- a history of your return transactions, including the date and time you brought back an item, whether you had a receipt and the dollar amount of the return. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse asks that you let them know, too.
Have you ever been denied a return or seen your return activity report? Did it explain why you were turned down?
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