Be sure to know return policies when holiday shopping

AMES — An Iowa State University supply chain expert says retailers face more costs now in handling returns, and many have looked at different ways to change their policies.

Robert Overstreet says you can help by knowing the policy before you buy. “Certainly you need to look up the policy and one thing I would convey to consumers is to be more intentional in your purchases, take the time to make sure it’s what you want before buying it,” Overstreet says.

He says holiday gift buying does fall into a different category for retailers when it comes to returns. “Retailers generally treat the holidays a little differently — you know where they are more lenient with the policy. … If there’s a 30-day window they won’t start that 30-day window until say Christmas or the day after Christmas — they understand that you know people getting something as a gift will need more time to return it,” Overstreet says. 

Overstreet is an assistant professor of supply chain management and says the costs for dealing with the returns have increased for retailers with staffing and other issues. Overstreet says there are always some people who want to push the system too far and his research group asked people about that. “We ask people ‘Do you consider yourself someone who violates a returns policy that goes beyond the intent of a retailer’s returns policy?’,” he says. “And only about one percent maybe two percent of those who responded identified as someone who’s abused a policy.” 

Overstreet says they figured people might be a little self-serving, so they asked the question in a different way. “So we asked, thinking about your friends and family, what percentage of your friends and family do you consider someone who would on occasion violate a retailer’s returns policy. We got an answer closer to 11 or 12 percent,” he says.

Overstreet says retailers have tried all types of return policies and can have issues if they are too lenient, and also if they are too strict.