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Retailers Are Making It Easier For You to Return Gifts — And Buy More

Image: Shoppers walk through the Rideau Centre

Shoppers walk through the Rideau Centre, in Ottawa on Boxing Day on Dec. 26, 2016. Justin Tang / The Canadian Press via AP

Shopping for holiday gifts may be over, but the consumer's work is hardly done. Now it's time for us to schlep all those unwanted presents back to the store.

According to the National Retail Federation, 10 percent of holiday gifts were returned in 2015, with one in three people returning an item.

This year, some retailers are implementing programs to help simplify the process of returns — and, optimally, to help score some more sales.

"Making it easier for consumers to return could be an attempt to create a more pleasant experience for the consumer and to retain them, rather than lose them," said Trae Bodge, smart shopping expert at Gift Card Granny.

Drop & Go — And Shop

At the Nordstrom Rack location in Union Square, NYC, Nordstrom is currently testing its "Drop & Go" service, which allows consumers to skip the lines to the cashier and get straight to the business of making a return.

"We don’t have a strategy around driving customers to return in store, but we know that having the convenience of being able to return at their local Nordstrom or Nordstrom Rack store is valuable to them," said Tara Darrow, a spokesperson for Nordstrom. "While we hope this provides more time to shop, our primary focus was to improve speed and convenience."

The drop and go program will be rolling out more broadly in 2017, Darrow added.

Bridging the Physical and Digital World

Waiting in line to make a return in-store may be tedious, but even more annoying can be returning or exchanging gifts that were purchased from e-commerce sites. Not only might you have to make a trip to the post office or to UPS to initiate the returns process, you'll have to wait days and days to have your wallet or store credit reimbursed.

Happy Returns, a Santa Monica-based startup, is dedicated to "tackling the challenge of returning items that are purchased online," as David Sobie, co-founder and CEO, puts it.

Related: Many Stores Have Tightened Their Returns Rules

The company, which is partnered with Tradesy and a few other e-commerce sites that do not have a brick-and-mortar presence, has several locations, or "return bars," including in Westfield Topanga, Westfield San Francisco Centre, the Fashion Outlets of Chicago, and a few other dense retail areas.

"Returns by mail are a pain point in shopping online," said Sobie. "Return bars can be a win-win-win. It's good for the customer who has the satisfaction of knowing the return is complete and they don't have to deal with the [hassle] of return; it's great for the [online retailer] because they're able to solve a friction in commerce, and it's terrific for the [brick-and-mortar retailer] because they're getting a steady stream of foot traffic into their stores — and a shopper doing a return is kind of the best possible foot traffic to get."

With late December and early January being the "high season of returns," Sobie said that Happy Returns' return bars are keeping busy, and that in the first quarter of 2017 the company will be rolling out pilots with some "large, household name retailers."

Shopping Online, Buying In-Store

Last February, following its acquisition by Hudson’s Bay Company (the parent company of Saks Off 5th), Gilt.com rolled out a policy that allowed merchandise purchased on the site to be returned to any Saks Off 5th store in the U.S.

The service is currently available to Gilt customers nationwide, in the more than 100 Saks Off 5th stores across the country.

Jonathan Greller, president, Gilt and Saks Off 5th, said that the service is a means of bridging online and in-store worlds so as to make for an optimal shopping experience.

Holiday returns to top $20 billion 3:42

"Gilt's strong digital presence combined with Saks Off 5th's extensive store network provide extra convenience for our customers and allow them to make returns in the way that works best for them," he told NBC News.

Of course, the service also helps Saks Off 5th make some sales it may not have otherwise made, with Greller confirming that one-quarter of people returning Gilt products opt for Saks Off 5th merchandise credit, though they also have the option of full reimbursement.

The Right Way to Return

Regardless of the services they have available to them, consumers shouldn't procrastinate in making their returns, and Bodge advises that they keep in mind the following points to avoid any problems.

  • Ensure that the item looks like it's ready for resale, with outer packaging preserved and tags on. The easier you make it for the retailer to resell the item, the more pleasant your experience will be.
  • Return within 30 days with a gift receipt to get full credit.
  • If you are not sure what to purchase with your store credit, focus on the items that are the most deeply discounted in January, like winter apparel, fitness apparel, fitness equipment, linens, and flat screen TVs.