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Retail Returns Are Coming In

'Tis the season for retailers to count their money. Analysts told The CBS News Early Show Monday that good weather and strong economic fundamentals are putting many merchants firmly in the black.

"It appears this one is shaping up to be a banner year," Credit Suisse First Boston retail analyst Bill Julian said. "I think (we'll) probably see an increase of 7 to 8 percent compared to last year, which is as good we've seen this entire decade."

A growing number of Americans chose e-commerce, turning to the Internet to meet their holiday shopping needs. Marc Johnson, who follows e-tail for Jupiter Communications, said the 1999 online shopping season is a sign of bigger things to come.

"Twenty-eight percent of online users shopped that way this year," Johnson said Monday. That adds up to well over ten million Americans, according to estimates of online use.

Johnson added that e-commerce, despite the $6 billion transacted, has not begun to fully realize its potential.

"Online shopping is like a house still being built," he said.

Johnson said that horror stories such at the Toys R Us debacle, in which thousands of customers were let down by the toy seller's Internet shopping glitches, have cast a mood of caution over the new shopping frontier.

In the world of bricks-and-mortar retailing, there are some changes in store for consumers, as well. Not all for the better, CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.

"The return policies have definitely changed, its not the same as its been in the past in my opinion," said shopper Regina Coleman.

More and more retailers are restricting returns -- in part because of so many customers have been buying items with no intention of keeping them.

"People were buying these items and them using them for their purpose, their immediate purpose, and then returning them for a full refund, and that was costing retailers quite a bit in sales and in profit," said Bruce Van Kleeck of the National Retail Federation.

They way dress store owner Daniel Talass sees it, people aren't buying his clothes, they're borrowing them -- wearing them once and bringing them back. He was losing as much as $5000 a year on returns until he started enforcing a no refund policy.

Along with high end clothing, consumer electronics such as computers and video cameras are the most abused items. Many of those retailers now charge a restocking fee of up to ten percent of the original price.

©1999 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report