Teresa McUsic

For happy returns, download an app and check out store policies

Many retailers are offering extended windows for holiday returns this year.
Many retailers are offering extended windows for holiday returns this year. AP

While most people were lounging around after opening gifts last Christmas morning, the staff at the Dallas-based online selling app 5mile began to notice something. Their site was lighting up.

Christmas Day, it turned out, was the heaviest traffic day so far for the mobile app, which launched earlier last year.

Almost 35,000 users in the DFW market took to the app, which allows you to take a photo of an item you want to sell and post within minutes, said Mark Brinkerhoff, spokesman for the company.

Most of the postings were obviously gifts just received or older items that had been replaced Christmas morning, he said.

“There were a lot of toys, electronics devices like iPhone 6 and PlayStation 4, handbags, perfume,” he said. “We had both buyers and sellers. On the seller side, it was, ‘Let’s get this up there and see what it going for.’ On the buyer side, it was, ‘I didn’t get what I wanted, so let’s see if I can find it.’”

Such apps are becoming the ultimate way to re-gift.

“Sometimes you get gifts and there is no return receipt,” Brinkerhoff said. “That can make for an awkward conversation. With our app you can look at the marketplace and see what things are priced to sell. You can use that as a basis point for what you might want to list your item at.”

Just like with re-gifting to a friend or relative, Brinkerhoff recommends sellers keep the packaging intact, unopened and unused.

“Also learn to stage your item,” he said. “Take a decent photograph so that it appears in mint condition. It will help it move faster and for more money.”

Now in most cities, 5mile’s largest market is DFW, growing to one million users selling on average $400,000 a day, Brinkerhoff said.

One can only imagine how many gifts under the tree will wind up on 5mile and similar apps tomorrow.

For those of you who would rather brave the return line in the mall next week, there are some new twists this year to some major retailers’ return policies.

Each year, Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org, looks at the fine print of 12 major retailers to detect changes or additions to their return policies.

The good news is that most of the policies have stayed the same, he said.

“If shoppers follow the rules, they should have many happy returns,” said Dworsky. “But since the rules vary so much from store to store, you really have to read the fine print.”

Many retailers are offering extended holiday return windows, he said. So gifts bought in November can be returned until mid- to late January, which is generally beyond the normal return deadlines.

For example, Marshalls and TJ Maxx both allow you to return items purchased after Oct. 16 until Jan. 23, 2017. Dworsky said the policy is clearly posted at the stores.

In an odd twist, ToysRUs has one of the most generous return policies specifically for holiday purchases this year. But it doesn’t post the policy in stores or on its website, and store personnel were unaware of it when Dworsky asked them about it.

The policy, which was confirmed by a ToysRUs spokeswoman, says that anything purchased after Sept. 1 may be returned through Jan. 28, 2017, if accompanied by a sales or gift receipt or online packing slip. The exception is electronic and entertainment products, which must be purchased after Nov. 1 and can be returned by the Jan. 28 deadline.

“It is frankly unbelievable that a major retailer would not boast about a very liberal holiday return policy,” Dworsky said.

Stores also continue to offer different return policies for different categories of products, further complicating the rules, he said. Electronic items are often subject to shorter return periods. Opened goods or those missing original packaging may have limited return rights or restocking fees.

Some stores, like Walmart, track shoppers’ return frequency in a database. Shoppers can only make three returns without a receipt within a 45-day period, Dworsky said, and the retailer tracks returns in a database and may deny a return that exceeds the store’s limits.

Return policy restrictions are aimed at reducing fraud, which a survey of 60 major retailers said would cost them $3.6 billion this holiday season, accounting for 5.5 percent of all holiday returns, according to the National Retail Federation. Total losses in 2016 by fraudulent returns is estimated at $10.9 billion for 2016. Retailers are expecting some $65 billion in returns this holiday season.

Teresa McUsic’s column appears Saturdays. TMcUsic@SavvyConsumer.net

Retail return policies

▪  Macy’s now requires all returns in one year instead of allowing returns anytime.

▪  Kohl’s added a deadline of Jan. 31 for “premium electronics” instead of keeping it open-ended.

▪  Costco reduced its return period for major appliances from open-ended to 90 days.

▪  A policy for drones was added at three retailers: Target gives consumers only 14 days to return drones; Walmart, 15 days and ToysRUs, 30 days.

▪  Sears started its holiday returns policy one week earlier, with items purchased after Nov. 1, and allows returns one week later to Jan. 31, 2017.

▪  ToysRUs increased the return period for computer hardware from 15 to 30 days.

▪  Many online sellers offer free return shipping, as do Shoprunner and PayPal.

SOURCE: Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org