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Retailers Restricting Returns

This holiday season might not be so jolly for shoppers trying to return presents.

The Early Show consumer correspondent Susan Koeppen reports a number of major retailers are tightening their policies regarding returned items.

Retailers say fraud involving returns costs stores $16 billion dollars a year, so more and more chains are fighting back with policies and practices that make it tougher to return things.

They're shortening the time you have to return items after they're bought, hitting customers with hefty "restocking fees" on returned items, and cracking down on "serial returners" with new, sophisticated computer tracking equipment.

"Serial returners," Koeppen explains, try to beat the system by returning items that have already been opened and used, or return multiple products.

Electronic items are of particular concern, she points out. Retailers have put new restrictions on the return of electronics products such as computers, digital cameras, and music players, because they say electronics make up the bulk of return fraud cases around the holidays.

This fall, Sears began imposing a restocking fee of 15 percent of the purchase price on all electronics products that are returned after they've been used, or with missing parts or manuals. And while they give you 90 days to return other products, you now have only 30 days to return electronics items.

Many major retailers are even using hi-tech computer systems that track every return you make, and put a red flag on serial returners.

For instance, Wal-Mart has a system that automatically flags customers who try to return more than 3 items without receipts in a 45 day period. If you surpass that limit, they won't accept your returns. If you don't make any returns without a receipt within a six month period, the red flag goes away.

So, to make returning items easier, Koeppen advises that you always ask about the store's return policies. And remember, those policies can be vary for different kinds of products. In addition, policies may be different for items bought in stores and those bought online. And you should check the time frame you have to return specific items. Ask about restocking fees. And try to return products unopened, in their original packaging.

One more tip from Koeppen, this one about gift receipts. She calls them "a great idea" but says, when she gives a gift to someone, she includes the original receipt as well. If all they have is a gift receipt, they may not be able to get the full purchase price back on a return.