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Americans are already returning holiday purchases

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Holiday gifts should still be under the tree, yet returns are already in full swing.

The advent of online shopping and hard-selling promotions by retailers had lots of consumers buying gifts for themselves, aided in their efforts by free shipping for deliveries and returns. That's according to UPS, which expects holiday returns will hit their peak on Wednesday, with an estimated 1.5 million packages returned.

"Not all of these are actually Christmas presents. They may be presents to ourselves first," explained Kathleen Marran, vice president of U.S. marketing for UPS. "We see a lot of self-gifting that happens from those great deals that happen for Cyber week."

In years past, returns didn't really pick up steam until January, and UPS said it still expects another wave will have 1.3 million packages returned on the third day of the new year. Overall, UPS expects to deliver 800 million packages this holiday season.

But consumers who starting buying online in the days before Black Friday are busy sending lots of stuff back, at a rate of a million packages a day this month, UPS said. 

Being able to return merchandise for free is an important part of shopping online for a majority of consumers, UPS said, citing its own research. And Marran said shoppers are changing their behavior as it becomes easier and cheaper to return merchandise: "Consumers can buy multiple gifts, decide what they want to keep and give to their family and friends, and perhaps return the others, earlier in the season."