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More shoppers make rapid returns

‘Boomerang purchases’ up sharply

When Michelle Woodall runs into Target to pick up a pack of diapers for her young son, she can’t help glancing at the racks of stylish blouses and sweaters – and usually ends up buying something for herself.

“I throw it in my buggy, get to the checkout and my bill will be over $100,” the 33-year-old Bellevue, Tenn., wife and mother said. “I’ve already decided by the time I’ve left the store to return it.”

Woodall loves to shop; she gets a high from it. But in these tight economic times, there’s nothing like the relief of seeing money credited to her charge card when she returns something.

Call them boomerang purchases, if you will.

“That is part of the excitement,” said Woodall, a bit of a fashionista who enjoys having a few trendy items in her closet each season.

These cash-strapped times have given rise to what the Boston Globe has dubbed the “returnista” – a shopper who makes a purchase, stresses out about it, returns the item and then feels a sense of relief about seeing the money go back on her credit card or getting cash back.

Indeed, a new survey by the National Retail Federation predicts retailers will see $219 billion in returns this year, a dramatic increase over last year. Of that, about $47 billion of returns will come from holiday purchases.

Some of those returns fall into the category of buyer’s remorse because of the recession, said Ellen Davis, vice president of the National Retail Federation. “People will feel like they bought too much or spent too much,” she said.

Returns are expected to be up this year, a reflection of a weak economy, according to the National Retail Federation.

But returns motivated by guilt are the most tolerable from the perspective of store managers.

Items are unworn or unused, and often returned the same day. Some shoppers don’t even make it out of the mall before they turn around to get their money back.

“Merchandise can be put back on the shelf and resold,” Davis said. Since some shops are carefully limiting their inventory this year, waiting to return something you know you won’t keep can actually be a hindrance. “So if you bought the only extra-small cashmere sweater in beige and someone else is looking for it, the retailer is out that sale,” Davis said.

Those same-day boomerang shoppers are far better for retailers than “wardrobers” or “renters” – shoppers who buy things for short-term use, such as a big-screen TV for the Super Bowl or a dress for a special occasion. And the practice isn’t too wise for shoppers, either, because the store may refuse refunds if they can detect that an item has been used.

Still, some stores plan to loosen their return policies this holiday season as a way to woo customers who are looking for good customer service.

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