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Americans Have Big Plans for Their Holiday Gifts: Returning Them

By Daniel B. Kline – Sep 21, 2019 at 8:10AM

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Seems like a majority of us can be tough to shop for -- and we know it.

Nearly everyone has, at one time or another, opened a gift that we hoped would contain one thing only to find something else that was entirely ... let's be generous and say "unsuitable." Whether it was an ugly sweater, a piece of art you'd never hang on your wall, or some other unwanted object, it meant having to use your most convincing fake smile and say "thank you soooo much," while quietly searching to see if there was a gift receipt.

The holidays aren't too far off, and the season will likely mean you'll receive a few more well-intentioned but wrong-for-you gifts. And if you're resigned to that, you're far from alone: Americans, by and large, have low expectations when it comes to the gifts they receive. Fully 77% of people surveyed said they plan to return a portion of their gifts, and nearly 20% expect to return more than half of the gifts they get, according to a new survey from Oracle.

A person appears to be unhappy with a gift.

It's often hard to act happy when someone gives you a bad gift. Image source: Getty Images.

Busy retailers

About a third of survey respondents said they expect to return their gifts via mail. But with roughly two-thirds anticipating that they'll bring unwanted gifts back to stores, retailers will have the chance to turn those bad gift experiences into sales opportunities.

"Retailers need to seize the moment when shoppers return gifts. The traffic generated by holiday returns holds significant opportunity for retailers to build better customer profiles and generate new opportunities for engagement by personalizing the returns experience," said Oracle Retail Vice President Jeff Warren in a press release. "Preparing for returns is a best practice, leveraging returns intelligence to inform product development and new customer acquisition strategies is next practice retail."

And while that flood of returns offers stores a major opportunity, it seems really wasteful for consumers. It justifiably feels tacky to make a gift list after a certain age, but it is perfectly reasonable to ask friends and family what they want. Eschewing subtlety and doing your holiday research more openly is a simple step could lead to a lot more genuine smiles, and a lot less of your friends and family members wondering just how long the lines at the returns desk will be on Dec. 26.

Start planning now

For a number of reasons, it's not a bad idea to sit down well before the holiday with your family -- your extended family if possible -- and discuss some holiday logistics. Will everyone be buying gifts for everyone else? Or will that only be the case for the kids, with the adults drawing individual names "Secret Santa" style? Do you want to set some guidelines on spending limits in advance?

Those wider discussions should be supplements by private talks with your partner, if you have one, on the topics of holiday budgets and where your finances are.

For example, this summer, my wife and I redid the floors in our condo and bought new living room furniture. Because of that, we're planning on exchanging more modest than usual gifts for our September anniversary, October birthdays, and the winter holidays (we celebrate different ones).

In our case, it's not simply about what we can afford; it's more that we already spent a lot of discretionary money on things we both wanted, so we view that as our large gift to each other. As for our 15-year-old, we'll have him make a list and share it with friends and family. But even with that guidance, I still expect him to receive a fair number of gift cards -- which almost never have to be returned.

Daniel B. Kline has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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