AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORERose Parade grand marshal Rita Moreno talks New Year’s Day outfit and ‘West Side Story’ remake “There are fewer and fewer returns,” said Ernest Speranza, the chief marketing officer at KB Toys, who spent Monday morning walking the chain’s stores, where he found dozens of shoppers waving gift cards. “It’s not one of the things we look forward to,” Speranza said, because returns or exchanges can almost double the time it takes to check out. Stores have also tried to limit returns because of the cost – items need to be repackaged, relabeled and put back on the shelf. At the same time, shoppers seem to have developed a taste for the gift cards. Gift cards accounted for 14 percent of all holiday spending, or about $30 billion, in 2004, a figure that is expected to grow to $35 billion this year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group. Many companies have worked to discourage returns. Some retailers – including Circuit City, Best Buy, Target and Sears – charge shoppers a “restocking fee” on items like computers, digital cameras, camcorders, portable DVD players and automotive items if the box has been opened. The fees can range from 10 percent to 15 percent of the cost of the item. Like the yule log, fruit cake and Christmas caroling, the holiday ritual of returning unwarranted gifts continues to slip away. On Monday, customers could still be found standing in long return lines, fumbling in purses and shopping bags for receipts and haggling with cashiers over missing tags. But as retailers tighten return policies and the gift cards shed their stigma as a thoughtless cop-out, post-holiday returns are on the decline. America’s Research Group, which polls shoppers for retailers, said surveys indicated that significantly fewer shoppers would be returning gifts this year. Ten years ago, the group found, 38 percent of consumers said they had an unwanted gift to return after Christmas. Five years ago, that number was 33 percent; this year, it is 14 percent. At a Best Buy in Manhattan on Monday, Anthony Dominguez of New Jersey said he was surprised to give the cashier a receipt for a $190 Sony digital camera and receive back only $170. “I was really annoyed by the long line,” he said. “Then to get hit with this fee.” Other companies, including the Sports Authority and Express, a division of Limited Brands, have enlisted the help of a company called the Return Exchange to monitor returns for patterns that suggest possible abuse by a customer. In addition to reducing returns, retailers have found another benefit of the gift card. Many shoppers using the cards, Beemer says, spend more than the amount on card. This year, he said, that the average gift card had a $35 value and that consumers who go above that will spend $60 to $70. “It’s like free money,” Beemer said. “If an item is $50 and you have a card for $35, then you get something for only $15. Psychology takes over.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!