What to Do With Unwanted Holiday Gifts? We Asked a Returns Startup

Here's how to handle presents that didn't hit the mark.

Getty Images / Justin Sullivan

Not every holiday gift is going to be an all-timer. Even the most thoughtful and caring family and friends can sometimes miss the mark in picking out something that is just perfectly you, or they might pick something that is way, way more you than you are presently willing to admit.

Either way, in the post-Christmas and generally post-holiday haze, you might find yourself thinking about sending a gift back. You’re not the only one: A 2015 New York Times article noted that the holidays saw annually about $65 billion in returns, a quarter of the entire year’s worth of returns.

And the real problem is a lot of those returns never actually get, well, returned, with many of these perfectly good items ending up in a landfill instead of back on a shelf. That’s a ton of waste, further damaging an environment that is already being damaged enough, thanks.

The startup Optoro is one of the companies attempting to change that. As first noted in that 2015 Times article, Optoro works in what’s known as “reverse logistics,” giving retailers some much-needed relief from the headache of all those returns.

“We provide retailers with a technology platform that they use to manage, sort, process, and disposition retail returns to their next best home,” Optoro spokesperson Carly Llewellyn tells Inverse. “That includes returning some of the inventory to stock, reselling some on secondary marketplaces like outlet channels or our own e-commerce channel,, or donating the items if they cannot be resold.”

So if you have presents that you’re happy with, what can you do to make sure the return goes as smoothly as possible? Llewellyn offers a couple basic but crucial pieces of advice.

“Keep the item in as good of condition as possible. This helps to ensure that the retailer can resell that item,” she says. “Check the return policy. Many retailers offer set return windows that you don’t want to miss.”

Beyond that, the idea is for companies like Optoro to keep returns simple enough that both overstressed consumers and overwhelmed retailers — both of whom are likely already thinking about those post-Christmas sales — are actually willing to do the work and not let good items get thrown away.

“Retailers will definitely be inundated with returns after the holiday season,” says Llewellyn. “But by deploying a technology platform, like Optoro’s, they are able to handle that surge in inventory.”