Stores handling gift returns in stride
The National Retail Federation estimated customers would return more than $46 million in products last holiday shopping season. If you're getting ready to return or exchange a gift, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has the following suggestions to make gift return trips less stressful:
-- Make sure you have a gift receipt or sales slip.
-- Keep the gift in the original packaging. Be prepared to pay a restocking fee.
-- Return gifts promptly. Most stores limit the time allowed for returns.
-- Be prepared to be denied. Some stores do not provide returns on some items.
-- Be aware that some stores have different return policies for in-store and online purchases.
JANESVILLE Were there lines of angry gift recipients demanding refunds or exchanges Wednesday?
Somewhere, perhaps, those lines existed, but they were noticeably absent in some Janesville stores.
Technology and smart shopping have diminished the rush of gift exchanges the day after Christmas, said Tim Tollefson, manager of Gander Mountain in Janesville.
"Our gift exchanges this year are way down," he said.
Tollefson has managed the Janesville store for 13 years.
"Returns are very light this year compared to previous years," Tollefson said. "We have a rack behind the checkout registers used for returns. When it fills up, we have to take it to the back, empty it out and take it back up front.
"So far today, we've only had to do that once," he said early Wednesday afternoon. "In past years, we would have made several trips by now."
Technology and smarter shoppers have led to fewer returns, Tollefson said.
"Customers come in, now, with pictures and online references to products they want," he said. "They know exactly what they want, what color they want and what size. That pretty much eliminates the need for a return."
The lack of returns is not a function of fewer purchases, Tollefson said.
"We've had a good year—better than past years, when we were feeling the effects of GM shutting down," he said. "The reason for fewer returns is shoppers using their iPhones.
"Shoppers can show us a picture of what they want with color and size included," Tollefson said. "They can show us the results of their Internet searches. They bring in detailed lists of what they want. All that tends to reduce the number of returns and exchanges."
Book World on Milton Avenue has a return policy, but it's not often used, according to owner Rene Purnell.
"We have very few returns because most of our gift shoppers come with lists of books they want," Purnell said. "They have checked with people they are buying for, or they know enough about them to find a suitable book. In short, most of our gift shoppers know what they want, and that greatly reduces the need for gift returns and exchanges."
High-volume stores also have seen a decline in gift returns and exchanges.
"We have a lot fewer returns this year," said Beth Olin, a Blain's Farm & Fleet employee working at the return counter Wednesday. "This year, we had an online program for shoppers to order online and pick up merchandise at the store. That seemed to work well in terms of shoppers getting the items they wanted."
Olin said most activity at her counter Wednesday was for exchanges, not returns.
"We see items exchanged because of size," she said. "We also are seeing exchanges because of duplications, but not a lot of outright returns."
Despite technology and smart shopping, returns still happen, Tollefson said.
"The biggest disappointment or worst case scenario is when someone brings in a gift they thought was purchased here but was not," he said. "We try to match the item up with what we sell, but sometimes we just can't do that and the customer is disappointed.
"That doesn't happen very often, but sometimes it can't be avoided," Tollefson said. "But, in most cases, we can send the shopper away with what they needed."