The 2011 holiday shopping season will seemingly extend at least another week, as four in ten Americans plan on hitting the stores over the next few days, according to a new Consumer Reports poll. Of those who will be shopping the week after Christmas, 82 percent said the lure of post-holiday sales was the biggest reason, 47 percent want to redeem their newly-received gift cards, and 31 expect to be returning gifts.
The full results of the Consumer Reports Poll can be found at www.ConsumerReports.org.
The Consumer Reports poll also revealed why many Americans won't be hitting the stores this week. Forty-six percent of survey respondents who won't be shopping said they just can't deal with any more crowds, 44 percent are simply sick of shopping, while 20% said that they were out of money.
"What our survey shows is that the vast majority of Americans who will be shopping this week are predictably looking for post-holiday blowout sales," said Tod Marks, Consumer Reports senior editor and resident shopping expert. "And those who aren't shopping this week are predictably all shopped-out and low on money and patience."
Gift Return Trends
A Consumer Reports follow-up holiday poll revealed that nearly one in seven adults returned a gift within the first two weeks after Christmas last year. This year Americans estimate that they will spend an hour, on average, returning gifts - one in five believes that they will spend two or more hours. However, just 42 percent of holiday shoppers typically include gift receipts with their purchases, and only a little more than half of adults take the time to investigate store's (54 percent) or online retailer's (56 percent) return policy.
For shoppers who find themselves at the returns counter this week, Consumer Reports has tips to make it a more hassle-free experience:
• Be sure before you open that box: Merchants can impose a restocking fee (often 15 percent of the product's cost), and many do for electronics items. Products such as computer software, CDs, and DVDs aren't generally returnable once they're opened. It might also be hard to return products with damaged packaging or missing tags.
• Keep all gift receipts: These days, more merchants will turn you away if you don't have a receipt. If you didn't get a gift receipt with a product you want to return, you may be out of luck, unless you're prepared to ask the giver for the receipt.
• Check store return procedures online and note any time limits: Big merchants usually allow 90 days for returns of most items but might have far shorter periods for electronics, software, and CDs and DVDs. During the holidays, retailers sometimes extend deadlines.
• Bring your ID: Some companies require a government-issued ID with a receipt. That way, they can track serial returners even if the transaction is in cash.
• Know your options: If an item was purchased online and the merchant has walk-in store locations, check the website to see if you can return it at a store and avoid repacking and a trip to the post office, as well as shipping fees.
Gift Cards Are Still Gifts
An earlier Consumer Reports poll revealed that 113 million Americans received gift cards last holiday season, and 62 percent of adults plan to give them as gifts this year. But at the start of the 2011 holiday shopping season, a quarter of recipients still had an unused gift card from last year.
Even though laws passed in recent years have eliminated some of the nuances that made gift cards less worthwhile in the past, Consumer Reports recommends that people redeem gift cards in a timely fashion and keep the following in mind:
• They may expire: New rules for merchant and bank issued gift cards mean they can't expire within five years after they're issued, or in the case of reloadable gift cards, within five years after money was last added. But the new rules don't apply to reloadable cards that aren't labeled or marketed as gift cards, including those awarded through loyalty, rebate or promotional programs. Nor do the new regulations apply to discount vouchers from such sites as Groupon, Living Social and BuyWithMe.
• You may be charged inactivity fees: Bank-issued cards are convenient because you can use them almost anywhere, but they come with fees. For example, you could be charged a monthly fee after 12 months of inactivity. Charity gift cards can also come with fees for transactions, or to transfer funds. Retail store cards usually have few or no fees.
• The retailer could go bankrupt: When the retailer Sharper Image filed for bankruptcy reorganization a few years ago, an estimated $20 million in gift cards and certificates were unredeemed. Consumers with Sharper Image gift cards were first told that the retailer was no longer accepting its cards, then that it would accept the cards if customers spent twice the cards' value, and finally that it was closing its stores altogether. Even if a retailer continues honoring its gift cards during bankruptcy reorganization or liquidation, there could be fewer places to redeem them or less time to do so.
• You might lose or forget about them: According to our recent holiday poll, at the start of this holiday season, a quarter of last year's gift card recipients still had an unused gift card. Using it now means you won't have to worry about losing it later.
Consumer Reports Holiday Shopping Poll Methodology
The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted a telephone survey of a nationally representative probability sample of telephone households. 1,017 interviews were completed among adults aged 18+ between December 2-4, 2011. The margin of error is +/- 3.1% points at a 95% confidence level. To allow for year-over-year trending, data was standardized for consistency.
Consumer Reports is the world's largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website and other publications. Its advocacy division, Consumers Union, works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.