Black Friday Remorse: Consumers Already Returning Holiday Purchases

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Daniel Acker / Bloomberg via Getty Images

A scene from Black Friday 2011.

Many of us rushed out to take advantage of the countless “holiday shopping events” around Thanksgiving weekend. Now, we’re slinking back to those same stores — except this time, we want our money back.

According to the National Retail Federation, almost 10% of sales will disappear as shoppers return unwanted purchases. In more normal economic times, stores have to give back around 7% of sales to consumers. But with returns more frequent this year, stores will see $217 billion in merchandise returned, up from $190 billion last year.

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The rate has ticked up slightly from last year, but it appears we’re returning items even sooner these days. And it’s no wonder, considering Black Friday started on Thursday this year, with Amazon even starting its holiday discounts weeks before Thanksgiving. We hit record holiday spending numbers this year, and those deep discounts almost certainly caused consumers to break out their wallets for items they wouldn’t have purchased otherwise. Now, some are realizing they overstretched their budgets and are looking for some of that cash back.

Electronics, which are heavily advertised and discounted during the holiday shopping season, are going back at especially high rates. As TIME Moneyland reported earlier, the return rate for electronics is between 11% and 20%. That rate has risen 21% since 2007. And according to Accenture, which surveyed 100 electronics stores, return rates have increased at half of those stores over the last three to five years.

Consumers returning to stores should be warned that some return policies have changed. According to the NRF, only 83% of stores have left their policies unchanged, and 13% are making them a bit more rigid. Target, Best Buy, Sears and Walmart have all made changes to their policies, according to ConsumerWorld, often including more restrictions (like mandatory receipts) and reducing return periods.

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As sales hit record numbers over Thanksgiving weekend, retail figures for the first week of December have dipped below last year’s numbers. Bill Angrick, CEO of Liquidation.com’s parent company, Liquidity Services, Inc., told the Associated Press: “This is going to be a record year for returns. People are still reluctant to spend.”

We may still be wary of spending, but we’re not wary of returning.

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