Think Returning That Gift Will Be Easy? Think Again

Christmas has come and gone, and for many Americans, it's time to head back to the mall.

Forty-nine percent of shoppers say they will hit this year's post-holiday sales, which means stores could be even more packed in the coming days than they were in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Instead of buying new items, however, many of the people heading to the mall are out to return gifts.

"My husband got me an iron, and I smiled and I tried to be pleasant, and then he got me a Car Vac," said one New York woman.

But those bringing back presents this year may have a harder time than usual.

New Rules for Returns

"Returns are going to be tough this year, and our recommendation to shoppers is, hang on to those gift receipts. They make the difference between cash back and a credit at the store," said Candace Corlett, principal at WSL Strategic Retail.

Retailers have cracked down on returns to prevent abuse and fraud, and to protect their bottom lines.

"Stores for a long time were very lenient about returns, and a lot of slippage going in to the return register eats into a store's profit," Corlett said.

Consumers can expect more complicated return policies: Some stores have imposed shortened return periods or offer no refunds at all.

Other stores blacklist serial returners. They use a computer database to track the number of returns each customer makes. If someone exceeds the store's return limit, the return is denied.

But there is a silver lining for those hitting the stores today -- the sales are on.

Shoppers are going to see much bigger discounts than before Christmas, especially on electronics and warm clothing. The best markdowns are going to be at the department stores -- some are advertising sales of up to 75 percent off.