Unhappy Returns

York, Pa., mall Christmas shopping

Fearing a holiday season sales flop, retailers tried to make it easy for consumers to get what they wanted, CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes reports. As Krystine Kalinowski found out, however, now some stores are not making it easy to return these items.

"I didn't even want cash," Kalinowski said of her experience returning an item. "I just wanted a credit back on my credit card and they didn't even want to do that."

There was a time when some retailers would give cash for returned items, even without a receipt. But many made changes in 2001 because of the economy.

According to C. Britt Beemer, of America's Research Group, "The biggest reason changing return policies is retailers struggling to make any profits at all, retailers trying to figure out ways to cut costs."

JCPenney explained its return policy of giving cash back without a receipt was changed this fall as an "expense control." Now such customers will have to settle for store credit. The Gap company, which owns Old Navy and Banana Republic, tightened its policy as well. Even if you paid by check and have a receipt, you can't get cash back anymore at the Gap -- you'll have to wait for a check in the mail. At Old Navy, where last year you could get cash with a gift receipt, now you'll just get store credit.

Many retailers claim the economy is not to blame and the practices are not new, they're just good business sense.

It costs about 20 to 30 percent of an item's price to restock it, and over the past few years retailers have found more people are trying to cheat.

One common abuse is when people buy something at a discount store and return the item to a department store.

"Retailers want to be fair to customers and only want to prevent fraudulent return practices," said the National Retail Foundation's Daniel Butler.

But with studies showing consumers ranked customer service as a top priority this Christmas, retailers could get stung.

Beemer concluded, "That consumer will walk out of the store saying, 'I'm not coming back.'"

Krystine Kalinowski said she wouldn't leave until she got a refund. The store agreed, but she said "it was like pulling teeth."

If the tightened policies fall flat with consumers, analysts predict next year some stores may try to lure in customers with a promise: that making returns will be easy.

© MMII, CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved