PHILADELPHIA -- Whether you're definitely sending that gift back or still on the fence, this report will help shoppers understand new return policy trends and how to make the whole process easier.
The National Retail Federation reports that returns nearly doubled during the pandemic: $218 billion worth of online purchases were sent back and the return rate is estimated to stay in that elevated range.
"We're seeing this year that return policies have gotten a little bit less generous than we've seen in years past," Samantha Gordon, Deals Editor with Consumer Reports, said.
Updated policies include shortening the return window, charging restocking fees or telling shoppers they'll have to pay for shipping.
Retailers like Anthropologie ($5.95) and LL Bean ($6.50) are charging to mail in most returns.
One tip to avoid most of these fees is don't mail it! Return the item in-store.
"If you bought online and you're returning in-store, have as much information as you possibly can. When you're returning that item, you'll have the best bet of having an easier time dealing with customer service," Gordon said.
But on the upside, the process of returning items purchased online has gotten a lot easier.
For gifts purchased on Amazon, initiating an online return triggers lots of options like at-home UPS pickup, dropping the item (in many cases totally unboxed) at a UPS store or returning in-store at Kohl's or Whole Foods.
For Walmart.com, start the return on their website and you can schedule a pickup, take it to a physical Walmart store or drop it off at a FedEx store.
And the most important thing to remember.
"When you're thinking about returning something, it's really important to keep your timeline in mind, try to get it done within January, if possible," Gordon said.
A matter of a week or 10 days could be the difference between exchanging for something you really want or being stuck with something you don't want.