What To Know Before You Count On Those Post-Holiday Returns

When it comes to holiday gifts, even the most well-meaning friends and family sometimes get it wrong. Not to mention, it can be hard to gauge just what to expect from an order when you're buying online! This year, people are holiday shopping earlier than ever. But when you need to return a purchased item, return policies can often be unreliable. And depending on current economic conditions, return policies are also subject to change; while many analysts expect a recession in 2023, a given store's return policies could be impacted beyond just the holiday season. 

This season, stores might not be offering free returns as much as they used to, per USA Today. With retailers scaling back their COVID-19 policies — which saw expanded return windows — and taking into account the high costs of offering free returns, shoppers can expect curbed return windows and alternative options instead of an outright refund. Here is what you need to know. 

Getting ahead of returns

Per the National Retail Federation, consumers are expected to return $816 billion worth of products this year. For each $1 billion in sales, $165 million worth of merchandise is returned. And on average, an item is returned 16.5% of the time. But throughout the holidays, these numbers skew slightly higher, where about 18% of purchased items are returned.

This means that retailers lose more money on returns during the holidays than at other points of the year, and in an effort to curb those losses, retailers might impose stricter return criteria. As a result, shoppers should expect to be given store credit, or have the cost of shipping deducted from their return, per USA Today. On average, retailers offer a 14 to 30 window for returns or exchanges, per Deal News. It is a good idea to know a store's return policy before you buy an item so you will not be met with surprises later, and also to set a holiday budget and stick to it. While some retailers offer generous return policies — for example, Bath and Body Works offers unlimited returns — others are more strict around the holidays, marking specific beginning and end dates to return certain items. For example, products purchased from Macy's between October 3 and November 3 can be returned until the end of next January. For a complete account of every major retailer's return policies, check out the list compiled by Deal News.