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Alina Selyukh

More than half a trillion dollars. That's the estimated value of all the stuff that U.S. shoppers bought last year only to return it — more than the economy of Israel or Austria.

There's a direct link from returns to the eye-popping scale of U.S. shopping overall. In 2021, U.S. shoppers likely spent a record $4.4 trillion.

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On the busiest mailing week of the year, time is running out for buying holiday gifts online. Or is it?

More and more stores are striking deals with delivery companies like Uber, DoorDash and Postmates to get your holiday gift to you within hours. They're going after what once was the holy grail of online shopping: same-day delivery.

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Updated December 9, 2021 at 3:28 PM ET

Starbucks workers have voted to form their first U.S. union.

Workers from one store in Buffalo, N.Y., voted to unionize, in a watershed moment for Starbucks, which operates 8,953 stores in the United States.

Three Buffalo-area stores held separate union elections. Baristas and shift supervisors from one store voted to unionize 19-8, while workers from the second store rejected unionization 12-8.

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Starbucks workers in New York are deciding whether they want to join a union, a move that would be unprecedented at stores owned by the company in the United States.

More than 80 baristas and shift supervisors from three stores around Buffalo have been voting by mail on whether to join Workers United, affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. The election ends Wednesday, and the result is expected Thursday afternoon.

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Updated November 29, 2021 at 4:37 PM ET

Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama are getting a new vote on whether to form the company's first unionized warehouse in the United States.

Holiday shopping season is always high-stakes for Saxon Shoes in Virginia — a time when people shop for several pairs at once and splurge on pricy winter boots.

This year came with extra worries: Would shoppers return after a pandemic freeze? Would Saxon's shoes get snared in the supply chain mess? And then, the question that turned out to be key: Would there be enough workers?

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By every forecast and measure possible, this holiday shopping season is slated to be a record-breaker. In fact, this whole year's shopping spree is setting records that not even the Grinch could stop.

For 35 years, the discount chain Dollar Tree committed to selling almost everything for $1. Time has come to pass the buck: Prices for most items will increase to $1.25.

Each year, the value of a dollar is eroded by inflation, making a dollar price commitment more difficult to maintain. Last month, inflation reached the highest rate since 1990.

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It's a weird year and a weird economy. Has it shown up in your shopping cart? Is it changing how you plan to celebrate the holidays this year?

As our economics team prepares to cover the holiday shopping season, we want to hear your story, whatever your plans are. Please answer the questions below, and an NPR reporter may contact you for an interview.

Costco has raised its minimum U.S. wage to $17 an hour, and Starbucks will raise its starting pay to $15 an hour. They join a growing list of chains that have added new incentives, trying to keep their workers in a year of mass resignations and stepped-up labor organizing.

Updated October 25, 2021 at 5:38 PM ET

Amazon warehouse workers in New York have taken their first formal step toward unionization on Monday.

Organizers from Amazon's Staten Island facilities say they've collected some 2,000 signatures from warehouse workers who say they want a union election.

Some 2,000 Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island have signed a call for unionization, according to organizers who on Monday plan to ask federal labor officials to authorize a union vote.

Mattress Firm, Claire's, Guitar Center — they're all recent bankruptcy survivors whose stores you might have passed in a mall, perhaps with their doors shuttered early in the pandemic.

But this year brought an unexpected, dramatic reversal, as these chains join a surprisingly long list of retailers who aim to find new life on the stock market, looking to go public.

Five members of a congressional committee say Jeff Bezos and other Amazon executives misled lawmakers and may have lied under oath, according to a Monday letter to Andy Jassy, who succeeded Bezos as CEO in July.

If Santa is reading this, his sleigh and reindeer are urgently needed for help.

Toy-makers are warning of emptier shelves and pricier toys this holiday season. Their supplies are ensnarled in an unprecedented shipping crisis — floating traffic jams of container ships wallowing near key U.S. ports.

When Curtis McGill helped launch a small Texas toy company, he did not picture himself in this boat: up all night bidding eye-popping sums of money for space on a trans-Pacific ship.

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Parents, brace yourselves. Toys may be more scarce and more expensive this holiday shopping season. Toymakers and sellers are ensnared in a shipping crisis without precedent, as NPR's Alina Selyukh reports.

People lick their fingers, touch money and hand it to you. They take money out of bras or hand you bills soaking wet with lake water. When you become a grocery cashier, says Rachel Baker, you quickly learn that retail is really filthy.

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