Return Policies Hard to Locate This Holiday Season

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The Internet is convenient for holiday shopping, but it may be less so for returning unwanted gifts. Many big retailers hide their return policies, while some don't list it at all. Others don't allow gifts purchased online to be returned to a bricks-and-mortar store, and vice versa.

Log on to the PetSmart website, and you’ll see plenty of holiday deals and specials (including one that’s cleverly called the Santa Claws Photo Event). But you have to be really smart to figure out the PetSmart policy for returning gifts – because there’s nothing about it on the home page, and a search for the word “returns” yields a blank screen.

Victoria’s Secret also keeps its return policy secret on its home page. But you can at least type “returns” into the search bar and go right to the page describing how to return a gift.

Still, Victoria’s Secret doesn’t let you return gifts purchased online or from the Victoria Secret’s catalog to a nearby store  – a convenience known in the retail business as “cross-channel returns.” And that irks a company called CrossView, which designs cross-channel software for retailers.

The company surveyed 88 big U.S. retailers, ranging from Best Buy to Target to Sears. It found…

  • more than half (51 percent) don’t list their returns policy on their home page.
  • a quarter don’t allow those so-called cross channel returns.
  • 65 percent require a receipt for returns.

“The fact that so many are overlooking such a fundamental usability issue and forcing customers to go digging for this information on their own is problematic, and may have a detrimental effect on retention,” says Jason Goldberg, a CrossView vice president.

In non-corporatespeak, that means customers might get really mad after the holiday, when they find that returning gifts was a heck of a lot harder than buying them. In a recession, retailers are watching every penny, so the days of no-questions-asked returns are over.

As for those Internet-to-store returns, Goldberg predicts consumer confusion.

“Consumers form a relationship with an entire brand, not the individual channels, and so when they are confronted with seemingly arbitrary unfriendly policies, they punish the entire brand,” he says.

For advice on how to have presence of mind about your unwanted presents, check out 5 Tips for Many Happy (Gift) Returns.

Stacy Johnson

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