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Many Unhappy Returns

Retailers tightened their return policies this holiday shopping season.

Q. Even with a receipt, I’ve been having more problems returning unwanted holiday gifts this year. Why?

A. About 17 percent of retailers tightened their return policies this holiday shopping season compared with last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

The reason: Stores lost an estimated $9.6 billion last year, and $2.7 billion during the holiday shopping season alone, because of “return fraud.” The best-known example is “wardrobing”—shoppers returning clothing after wearing it—but 43 percent of surveyed retailers reported increased problems with shoppers using fake receipts to bring back stolen merchandise, and 75 percent have seen returns that were bought with counterfeit money or stolen credit cards.

Many stores are fighting fraud by asking shoppers to show their driver’s license or credit card. They then store that information to help identify (and blackball) those who exceed limits on the number or value of returns or don’t provide a receipt.

Restrictions on returns take many forms. Some retailers, including Home Depot, won’t allow items purchased online to be returned in stores. Others, such as Toys“R”Us, will only issue store credit for returned merchandise bought online. Other policies that are on the increase include restocking fees, shorter return periods for big-ticket items such as appliances, jewelry and furniture, and refusal to take back merchandise that’s been opened, even if you bring back the original packaging.

If you have problems, speak with the store manager, who often can override store policies (which should be posted). Bring past receipts to prove you’re a loyal customer.

You can check your returns history, and correct mistakes, by e-mailing your name and phone number to The Retail Equation, a company that monitors returns for many stores. Send your e-mail to

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.