ST. LOUIS -- If Aunt Janet doesn't like the watch you bought her this Christmas, it's OK. Just be aware of the return policy on it.
Retailers either tighten or loosen their return policies each year. And this year, like every year, their motivation for making adjustments is the same: to stem the tide of return fraud.
The retail industry is expected to lose an estimated $2.7 billion in return fraud this holiday season and an estimated $9.6 billion this year, according to a National Retail Federation survey.
The survey also said that 6.4 percent of holiday returns are expected to be fraudulent this year, down from 7.5 percent last year.
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Also in the study, 69 percent of the 134 retailers interviewed said they have changed their company's return policy to combat fraud. While 16.9 percent of retailers said they will tighten their policies, 3.8 percent said they will relax theirs.
Target Corp. usually allows customers to return items within 90 days of purchase, However, the company will accept returns on purchases made during the holiday season for up to 12 months.
Sears has extended its time period slightly for holiday returns, said Tom Aiello, a spokesman for Sears Corporate Holdings.
The store will accept items purchased between Nov. 14 and Dec. 13 for up to 120 days. But home electronics and mattresses will have to be returned within 60 days.
Amazon.com gives customers until Jan. 31 to return items purchased between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31.
But returning items to online stores requires a lot of care. Most online retailers expect customers to return the merchandise with its original packaging and in unused condition.