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Loving People

We are in that time of year when gifts are being given. Before the ones under the tree are opened, there’s quite a bit of exchanging of gifts that takes place at parties, in the office, at school and between friends. We don’t think about this as much as when the stockings are emptied, but it’s substantial and certainly not a surprise because after all—it’s the season of giving.

And in what has become a great American tradition, it is also the season of returning. This is not a big surprise either. All gifts are not created equal: there are some that don’t fit, don’t work, you already have, you don’t want and worst of all—you can’t possibly re-gift.

So you send it back.

Previous generations had to stand and wait in long lines with other disappointed people in order to return their unwanted gift. Not this generation. Included with their gift isn’t a receipt from the store, it’s the pre-paid return postage label. They just put the gift back in the box and drop it off at UPS. And UPS has a name for when this returning phenomenon peaks—National Returns Day. In 2016, it was January 6 when 1 million gifts were returned. Last year, it was January 5 and 1.3 million with the first full week of the new year seeing 5.8 million packages sent back. This year the peak number was 1.5 and the day when most things were returned was December 19. That’s right, we have entered new territory.  It seems the gifts being returned are for the better part not by people receiving them, but by the people who bought them.

We now have givers remorse. You buy a gift and then decide it’s not right so back it goes.

There are a few things in play here. One is that more gifts are being bought in the five-day period from Thanksgiving to Cyber Monday than ever before, so buyers have plenty of time to reconsider their choices (according to UPS, 75% of consumers have shipped something back). Another factor is that retailers have made it easier than ever to send something back (UPS tells us that’s very important to 79% of consumers). Some of what is bought is self-giving or is given to others before Christmas. Still, it’s startling that biggest return day is before Christmas rather than after.

There is somewhere in all of this, aside from the legitimate reasons for returning merchandise, a picture of us as consumers which isn’t flattering: we aren’t sure what we really want (either for ourselves or others) and require a large safety net to protect us from our bad decisions. What looks good enough to point and click or touch and tap, often turns out to be less than we expected and not what we want or need. It puts me in mind of the saying, “People are made to be loved and things are made to be used. Things begin to go wrong when things are being loved and people are being used.”

Maybe it’s time to change our emphasis from giving things to loving people. 

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