Consumer Confidential: Prices come down, shoplifting goes up

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Here’s your Happy-Festivus Friday roundup of consumer news from around the Web:

-- And down they come -- prices, that is. Half off at the entire store at Ann Taylor. Sixty percent at Gap. Forty percent off almost everything at Abercrombie & Fitch. Aggressive last-minute deals in the days before Christmas are good for procrastinators, but they could be an alarm bell for the retail industry. While scattered markdowns are standard every year, discounts across entire stores -- which analysts say are more widespread than last year -- suggest merchants are stuck with too much merchandise. Many retailers entered the season with fully loaded shelves. Now they’re scrambling to move inventory. Among the deals to be had, Toys R Us announced new markdowns on dozens of items for Friday and Saturday. (New York Times)

-- But apparently not all shopping is paid for. During the four weeks leading up to Christmas, an estimated $1.8 billion in merchandise will be shoplifted this year, according to the Global Retail Theft Barometer, a survey of retailers worldwide. That’s up about 6% from $1.7 billion during the same period last year. Sticky fingers are common during the holidays. The crowded stores and harried clerks make it easier to slip a tablet computer into a purse or stuff a sweater under a coat undetected. But higher joblessness and falling wages have contributed to an even bigger rise this year. People steal everything from necessities to luxuries they can no longer afford. (Associated Press)


-- And if you’re going to be returning anything (paid for or otherwise), keep in mind that there are rules to follow. Some items -- especially electronics -- have a shorter return window. Target has shortened its return time for tablets, netbooks, e-readers, cameras and camcorders to 45 days, down from 90 days last year. Also, shoppers who return gifts without receipts or other proof of payment may end up receiving the current selling price of the item, which may be lower than what was paid. In other cases, the retailer may decline the return all together. Retailers estimate that holiday returns will total a record $46.3 billion this year, up 4% from last year and 10% from two years ago. (SmartMoney)

-- David Lazarus