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Returning a gift? Better have an ID and receipt ready

Today is the big reveal, the result of weeks' worth of shopping trips for the must-be-perfect gifts.

People will cherish the presents they love and politely thank the givers of stuff they don't (and wonder, ''What in the world were they thinking?'')

Now comes the inevitable conclusion to the holiday shopping season: returns. This year, consumers are expected to take back $62.7 billion worth of holiday merchandise.

Dec. 26 is a huge day for returning gifts as well as redeeming gift cards and scooping up end-of-the-year bargains. Stores and malls extend hours. Lines at customer service counters run several people deep.

Shoppers should do their homework before attempting any return or exchange because rules vary widely from store to store, and even within stores. Come without a receipt, and it won't be easy.

Some retailers have tightened their return policies in an effort to reduce fraud, which increases during the holidays.

Retailers will lose an estimated $8.9 billion to return fraud this year, according to the National Retail Federation's 2012 Return Fraud Survey. About $2.9 billion of that will happen over the holiday season.

Overall, retailers estimate about 5 percent of holiday returns are fraudulent. People use fake receipts or return merchandise that was stolen or bought with counterfeit money. Also common is "renting'' electronics for a few days or wearing an item for a special occasion then returning it — a practice called "wardrobing.''

Who pays? Of course, we do, in the form of shorter return windows and limitations on the types of products that can be returned. Many stores now have different policies for different items. Target, for example, has reduced the return period for tablets, eReaders, cameras, game consoles and other electronics to 30 days and may deny refunds and exchanges on opened items. Other items have a 90-day return policy.

Nearly three-quarters of retailers require customers to show identification when making a return, especially without a receipt, when the chance for fraud is greater, the survey said. The data is used to detect fraudulent returns, but I hate to think where else it ends up.

Consumer World, an online consumer resource guide with buying advice and information on consumer rights and scams, recommends saving returns until a few days after Christmas when the crowds subside. To get full credit, bring a receipt and the item unopened, which seems obvious until you've seen someone returning an air mattress that doesn't fit in the box. (I have, and Walmart still took it.)

I realize it's not always easy coughing up a receipt. Who likes asking Aunt Martha for the receipt for the sweater you don't want? Unless you can blame it on the size or an allergy, the request borders on tacky and could put you on the naughty list for next year. Wimps like me just stuff it in the back of our closets, waiting for the next Goodwill run.

Maybe that's why store gift cards are so popular.

Holding out for the next best thing

I haven't begun to pack up all the Christmas gifts and decorations that fill my living room, but I already know I need more storage boxes. I've looked at Target and Ikea but neither had size, color and shape I wanted. So I'm holding out for the new Container Store under construction along West Shore Boulevard near International Plaza, the first in the region. With a name like Container, it better have the best selection around. A grand opening date is set for March 16, which can't come soon enough.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110.

Returning a gift? Better have an ID and receipt ready 12/24/12 [Last modified: Monday, December 24, 2012 9:06pm]

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