Shoppers stream into Michaels on Aurora Avenue in Naperville just after opening on Thursday. An employee said the store had a crowd of around 25 people waiting outside when it opened at 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media
Retailers are hoping the music of cash registers will join carolers this year as the biggest retail season of the year begins. But shoppers should be aware of some little-known facts about choosing gifts and making sure recipients can return them.
The day after Christmas often rivals Black Friday as shoppers descend on stores looking to return or exchange gifts as well as take advantage of post-holiday bargains. Those who venture out to return a gift often buy more than they give back.
Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago & Northern Illinois Inc., says doing your homework before you venture out will save you time and money.
“We have events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday and Small Business Saturday, and one of the things people should do is sign up on business’s social media sites where they’ll find deals not listed anywhere else,” Bernas said.
Bernas adds that consumers should only shop at Internet sites with “https” as part of their address to be sure they are secure sites and that for retail locations, “consumers should make sure they understand all sales and return policies.”
“In terms of refunds after the fact, people need to realize refunding is a privilege, not a right,” he said. “More stores are offering only in-store credit to make sure you’ll continue to shop there.”
Mackensey Quintana, general manager of The Gap in Naperville, said her store offers a 60-day exchange policy with either a gift receipt or the actual bill of sale, which is fairly standard in the retail industry.
“I think you’ll find that most of the bigger stores and big box retailers have a policy similar to ours,” she said.
A store manager at the local hhgregg store in Naperville said the company policy is to accept returns through Jan. 7 and exchanges through Jan. 16. Despite selling large appliances, the store does not offer layaway service.
Quintana said The Gap doesn’t offer layaway either, but she did confirm that post-Christmas sales are brisk and that there are things shoppers can do to make their exchange or return experience easier.
“We still sell twice as much in new sales after Christmas as we do in exchanges and in-store credits,” she said. “If we take back $5 in merchandise, we still get $10 in new sales. People should know that with gift receipts, they’ll get an in-store credit for what they return. If they bought something on a credit card, they’ll get a refund back on that same card.”
Kris Nugent, a manager at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, said her store offers the most generous return or exchange policy — up to 120 days, and actually offers cash refunds with receipts.
“If people don’t have receipts, we’ll give them an exchange or in-store credit,” she said. “We feel this is part of offering good customer service here; plus with books, you’re looking at something that is more viable over time.”
Nugent’s remarks reflect a trend that Bernas said was supported by a recent BBB poll about what consumers want.
“People told us that customer service and good value mattered more to them than price,” he said. “Things like comfort, ease of shopping or location weren’t as important now.”
Here are a list of tips offered this holiday season regarding returns, exchanges and layaways
Layaway, Bernas said, is a policy that began more than 70 years ago during the Depression. While fewer and fewer retailers offer the service, make sure you know what the policies are regarding making payments as well as whatever contract terms you enter.
By law, items ordered online have to be shipped within 30 days unless otherwise specified. Products ordered Dec. 1 aren’t legally obligated to arrive in time.
Create a budget for shopping this season and stick with it.
Despite being impersonal, both Nugent and Quintana say that, when you don’t know what to buy, get a gift card. Kids, Nugent said, would often rather pick out their own book or gift.
Returns are often slowed by people returning products still wrapped in gift boxes, Quintana said. “Every year the back counter is filled with boxes we don’t need.”