PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- All of those gifts you bought at Black Friday sales in July and big events in October? Yeah, stores really don't want you to return those. At all.
Even with a shortened holiday shopping calender, retailers aren't too keen on flexing their return policies and allowing you to take back dud gifts you bought at bargain prices while shopping early. This year, in some cases, that even includes items sold on Black Friday.
A Consumer Reports survey found that one in five Americans, or nearly 50 million, expected to return a Christmas gift lin 2011. Roughly the same percentage of all adults were stuck with a bad gift the year before, though 18% donated the offending present, 15% regifted it and 22% either returned it or just threw it out.
That led to 9.9% of all holiday purchases being returned to retailers in 2011, up from 9.8% a year earlier and a scant 8.8% back in pre-recession 2007. In all, consumers brought back $58.5 billion in presents, which was a significant increase from the $39.7 billion in products they returned six years ago.
That made the entire retail world stamp its feet and cry like a child that didn't get what it wanted for Christmas. Under the guise of attacking "return fraud," which retailers say accounted for $3.3 billion of all returns last year, 27.9% of all retailers said they were changing their return policies for the 2013 holiday season.
That doesn't mean shoppers are completely out of luck, however. Macy's customers have unlimited return times on anything that's not furniture (three days) or a mattress (60 days) and charges only its 15% restocking fee for those two categories. Kohl's has an open-ended return for all items, while Costco's own open return policy applies to everything but electronics, which get a generous 90-day policy of their own. If you shopped at Buy.com, meanwhile, anything you bought after Thanksgiving doesn't have to be returned until Feb. 15.
Even with those lenient policies in place, there are a whole lot of retail Scrooges, Grinches and Scut Farkuses out there who love nothing more than making you feel as if you've been mugged when you have the audacity to show up at their customer service counter. Even if you show up nice and early with your return, there's no guarantee that swapping your items will be a pleasant experience.
A survey by customer service software firm Zendesk indicates that December is the absolute worst month for customer service, with a special place in hell reserved for those who call a customer service agent on Dec. 29. The average time it will take for you to hear back from an agent? A full 66 hours, or more than two and a half days later. And expect everybody else in the U.S. to be calling at the same time you are. Saturdays are the worst day by call volume, while 6 p.m. is the absolute worst time to check in.
Unless you have a spare morning -- when Zendesk advises calling at 9 a.m. -- you're stuck until January. Unfortunately, that's also when a bunch of tight-fisted retailers are going to make you pay for waiting so long -- despite your lack of choice in the matter. Just to let you know what you're up against, here are the five worst offenders when it comes to holiday returns. Good luck getting anything but a hearty laugh in exchange from these folks: