Need to return a gift? Here's how retailers are making it safer during the pandemic

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- If you need to return a Christmas gift, retailers have new options to safely to do so during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, the National Retail Federation estimated Americans would spend $766 billion in holiday sales, with much of it being done online.

"I didn't really go to any shops," said Shrey Jain. "I just did online shopping. It was really simple and easy."

Easy to buy, but what about returns?

The National Retail Federation estimates about 10% of all gifts will go back on the shelves. Shoppers believe returning gifts in 2020 won't be the same.

"It's just going to be a little difficult," Jain said.

While many stores made shopping for the holidays easier with online and curbside options, shoppers are now wondering about returns.

"Either you get stuck with whatever you bought, or you put on your mask, and you go and return it," Ijeoma Okebugwu, another shopper, said.

Some retailers will let customers print labels at home and return gifts through FedEx and UPS, even if they bought it in store.

Walmart is even allowing customers to ship unwanted items back from their home, free of charge.

Some stores are even utilizing curbside parking spots. Best Buy and Dick's Sporting Goods are allowing customers to use those spaces for returns. They're advising customers to park, call and read out the receipt to an associate in order to make a return without coming into contact with anyone.

"Curbside returns sound good, and I do curbside pick-up as well," Okebugwu said. "That's a good option."

Others think most people will choose to not go through the hassle of making the return.

"I think most people will try to find ways to repurpose those items rather than having to return," Sarmistha Sinha said. "If they do have to return, I guess just safely wear a mask."

But, be aware that if you do plan on making several returns, you could be placed on a list and no longer allowed to return things at certain stores.

The first thing to note is that customers will more than likely have an extended period of time to make returns due to COVID-19. So, not all returns need to be taken care of right away.

Stores are keeping in mind that many of them are not allowing shoppers to use the dressing room, and when buying online, that's impossible. Retailers are aware some people are buying the same item in different sizes.

If you're worried about being put on the merchandise naughty list, don't fret. Stores are using high tech tools to stop the abusive returners.

"There are actually third party providers, a very large one that services Amazon, Home Depot and Victoria's Secret that provide an algorithm that scans all transactions and looks for perpetual returners and flags them for retailers," said Barbara Stewart of the University of Houston.

Stewart also said as far as clothing goes, retailers are already seeing a huge amount of returns but the all-seeing algorithm is keeping tabs on those who truly abuse the system.

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