PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- When stores had Black Friday sales in July and offering holiday discounts in October, nobody was considering whether those gifts could be returned in late December.Now it's time for disgruntled gift recipients to find out. A Consumer Reports survey found that one in five Americans, or nearly 50 million, expected to return a Christmas gift last year. Roughly the same percentage of all adults were stuck with a bad gift the year before, though 18% donated the offending present, 15% re-gifted it and 22% either returned it or just threw it out. That led to 9.9% of all holiday purchases being returned to retailers last year, up 9.8% from a year earlier and a scant 8.8% back in pre-recession 2007. In all, consumers brought back $46.3 billion in presents last year, a significant increase from the $39.7 billion in products they returned five years ago. That's a small Christmas miracle, considering how much easier presents were to return half a decade ago. About 83% of retailers aren't tweaking their return policies this year, according to a National Retail Federation holiday survey, but that's only after 25% tightened restrictions in 2006 and another 17% made returns more difficult during the recession-hit 2008 holiday season. Another 7% tightened restrictions this year. TGT), for example, has cut its return window for laptops, e-readers, tablets, cameras and camcorders from 45 days to 30 this year. Sears ( SHLD), meanwhile shortened its regular return window for many items from 90 days to 60 days and cut its extended holiday return period from 120 days across the board to 30- and 60-day categories that can be returned until Jan. 24.
While some retailers have begun making items bought on the Web and at their stores returnable to either, others just refuse to mix inventory. Sports Authority is notorious for not accepting returns of items bought online at its stores, but at least it's consistent.Macy's mix-and-matches return policies from time to time, but won't take area rugs or lighting bought online back at its stores. Ann Taylor already doesn't like the idea of you "wardrobing" its clothes for a holiday party and sending them back, which is why it won't take back swimwear, extended-calf boots or "wedding and events" clothing in-store, and Loft has the same policy for maternity and swimwear items. Gap also has a habit of marking items from OldNavy.com, Gap.com and BananaRepublic.com as "Return by Mail Only," so it pays to read the packaging before making a return. Don't return items this week What are you, mad? Unless you really enjoy standing in line and arguing with people and felt you didn't get enough of that experience on Black Friday, there's no reason to be in the store the day after or even the weekend after Christmas. If you have a sales slip or gift receipt, the item is in new condition, unopened and still has all its packing material, there's no reason for you to brave the madness for returns you could just as easily make next week. Just check your return policy and make sure you're not hitting a store during its post-holiday sale, when it may try to refund you the current, lower selling price. -- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Jason Notte. >To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/notteham. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.