Americans have loads of unwanted stuff in their homes — much of it still containing price tags. Research by NDP Group indicates the typical American household has unwanted merchandise valued at $7,000 sitting inside. That is a sad state-of-affairs especially when money can be scarce in the first place. That extra unwanted merchandise causes a sense of clutter and disorganization.

The alternative option to storing this stuff is to return it (if given as a gift, say, at Christmas). But that too comes with inconvenience — specifically, the hassle for gift recipients who need to lug merchandise back to stores, wait in customer service lines and locate the original receipts ... all to simply find replacement items that better fit their lifestyles.

Smarter gift buying would help. Focusing on practical items that people use every day and that fit their lifestyles — from food to health and beauty aid items to reading and music items — would better help connect gifts to their intended recipients. Brick-and-mortar stores where gift recipients regularly shop are most likely to yield presents that resonate best with those receiving the gifts. The buying experience is easier too. Rather than trying to get inside someone’s head to see what they really want, look in their cupboards, closet, medicine cabinet, brief case and refrigerator to see what they like and get them some more of whatever can be found in those places.

Merchants shouldn’t think the Christmas buying season is nearly over. Instead, brick-and-mortar operations should see it really stepping into high gear this weekend. Working hard with an aggressive advertising and marketing campaign telling the story of what merchants have available to satisfy customers’ wants and needs is imperative to optimizing potential sales. Believe it or not, sitting back and hoping customers will flock into a store doesn’t work. Only by having a sales strategy and working that strategy are merchants bound to have the cash register ringing to the degree they desire.

And what happens to all those unwanted gifts cluttering people’s homes? About 44 percent of disappointed recipients make the best of the unwanted gifts, according to a Consumer Reports poll published in Real Simple magazine. Meanwhile, 39 percent of gift recipients hide the unwanted gifts somewhere and another 18 percent donate the unwanted gifts to charity. Just 2 percent of people actually returned the gift to the gift-giver.

With a 20-percent chance of people getting something they don’t want or need as a Christmas gift, it makes sense to try a little harder to be selective when shopping for gifts. Rather than being impulsive, go with what you know recipients already like, and reduce the need for repurposing or returning an unwanted item later.

— Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher