Thursday, January 11

From Refunds for Dead Christmas Trees to Designer Bath Towels for $5, Retailers Will Do Anything to Get You to Shop in January

There was a funny story in the Post about a lady attempting to return a dead Christmas tree to Costco, in January — and the store actually giving her her money back. As the piece points out, Costco is one of a number of retailers famous for their generous returns policies, with the discount store's employees reporting taking back stuff like an empty wine bottle, old fish, even a used chicken coop. The overlooked part of the story, though, is that while taking back virtually anything — even if it's used, even if the customer doesn't have a receipt —might seem like a dumb policy, especially considering how challenged the retail sector continues to be, it's actually a shrewd gimmick for luring shoppers and multiplying sales during the post-holiday doldrums. The Times reported the other day that retailers are doing more than ever to keep the holiday shopping season roaring deep into the winter — encouraging people to go ahead and return those ugly Christmas sweaters and the foot massager you got for Hanukkah. As the story points out, a woman went to the Galleria in White Plains to return a pair of $50 boots — and ended up spending another 300 bucks there. The windows of stores like Forever 21 are filled this glum month with brightly colored signs promoting "The Most Epic Sale EVER!" and "Buy One, Get One Free" offers. The troubled department store chain Macy's has become quite fond of advertising its "One Day Sale" via newspapers and TV spots — forget that the sale seems to happen every week, and usually goes for two or three days, not just one. This week, Macy's is promoting yet another "One Day Sale" — for Thursday and Friday. (I mean, I believe in creative license and relaxed semantics in marketing, but this is ridiculous.) My favorite: a set of sheets for $15 — but that actually ends up being free after a $15 mail-in rebate. Also from Macy's for those willing to hurry in now: $5 designer bath towels, free shipping on virtually anything, and an extra 20 bucks off your purchase if you come in before 2 p.m. But does the post-Christmas push really work? History suggests it does. Last January, according to the Commerce Department, U.S. retail sales beat analyst expectations, bested the prior January by a robust 5.6%, and were much-needed bright spot in first-quarter earnings reports. Now, excuse me while I load up my bald, parched Christmas tree and head to Costco. I'm sure it won't matter to them that I didn't buy it there.