Around the holidays each year for the last five years, there have been two recognizable business trends. The first trend is that more and more people are purchasing Christmas gifts online. For 2011, Cyber Monday sales totaled $1.3 billion, making it the strongest online shopping day in history. The trend toward shopping on the Internet as opposed to going out to crowded brick and mortar stores has been steadily growing since 2005. Even as online shopping increases, brick and mortar stores have made it harder to return unwanted gifts after Christmas.
The trend against universal returns is an irksome one. Sam Walton founded Wal-Mart as a customer service-driven retail store. One of the principles Walton used when establishing Wal-Mart was that “the customer is always right.” The advertising campaigns used to promote the first Wal-Mart super centers in the late 1980s restated that principle frequently. At that time, Wal-Mart actively advertised a return policy so generous that they would accept returns, even if the item came from another store. Now, however, Wal-Mart’s return policy is far less liberal or customer service oriented. Wal-Mart.com’s return site requires order numbers and shipping information, even for gifts! Wal-Mart stores accept returns without a receipt, even if the item was purchased online. However, most returns without a receipt are only valid for store credit or exchange. The only post-Christmas change to Wal-Mart’s return policy is that the store extends the return date for electronics to increase the amount of time you may return or exchange electronics.
Other major electronics or computer vendors are following that less customer-friendly return policy. Apple Stores only accept unopened items with their original or gift receipt. If you get an Apple iPhone as a gift, returning it after the holidays does not necessarily cancel your service commitment. As a result, returning an iPhone means returning the physical phone and contacting your carrier to cancel service, and, with some contracts, you may not be able to cancel early without fees!
With most major stores requiring a receipt and your gift to be unopened in its original packaging, now it is more important than ever to be careful about dropping gift hints. If you want a new laptop, smartphone or other computer device this holiday season, be precise when requesting it and be careful not to ask more than one person for the same thing. The best defense against the miserly return policies of stores is to not have to make a return at all.
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