While some analysts predicted as much as a 4 percent increase in sales during the 2012 holiday season, actual figures show only a 0.7 percent rise. The effects of Hurricane Sandy and consumers fears over the fiscal cliff are to blame, according to some experts.
Regardless of whether sales were up a little or a lot, one thing remains true no matter what the economy is like - people will return gifts.
A recent Chicago Sun-Times article quoted AlixPartners' Joel Bines who believes that free shipping and free shipping on returns removes a major hurdle to many shoppers' interest in returning or exchanging unwanted or ill-fitting gifts.
If you are planning to return a gift this year, there are a few things to keep in mind.
Different stores have different return policies.
Some stores are very accommodating, and will accept returns of virtually anything, with no need to give a reason. Other stores require the original packaging, a receipt and a valid reason. There is nothing worse than taking a gift to a store and having to drag it back home since you forgot a part or don't understand their return policy. Visit a store's website or call their customer service department before you brave the crowds.
Return shipping may not be free.
While many retailers have waived return shipping fees to improve sales this year, traditionally the consumer is responsible for those fees. If you got an inexpensive gift, it may not be worth it to spend money to return it. Donate the item to a local nonprofit, or find another use for it.
Search for hidden fees.
Some stores (both on-line and brick and mortar) impose fees for items that are open, especially electronics. If you've ever seen an "open box" sticker on an item with a reduced price, you now know where that discount comes from.
Have you returned any gifts this year? Had a harrowing or pleasant experience doing so? Share your experiences with your fellow Patch readers in the comments section below.