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How Your Returns Are Used Against You at Best Buy, Other Retailers (wsj.com)
182 points by QUFB on Mar 13, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 280 comments

I frequently shop at Home Depot. Last year I was remodeling my bathroom and I had some extra parts (unused) and I went to return them. I was mistakenly flagged by Retail Equation and several of the things I was returning were denied. It was extremely frustrating as I had bought thousands of dollars of merchandise and was literally trying to return less than $40 of stuff.

I asked to talk to the store manager, she said there was nothing she could do. To me, the real problem with these systems is that relying on them too much removes the ability for people to provide good customer service.

Fortunately for me, I don't give up so easily. I guessed the email address of the CEO of Home Depot and wrote him. The next day the VP of Loss Prevention called me and then called the store. They let me return my merchandise the next time I tried. ;)

>I asked to talk to the store manager, she said there was nothing she could do. To me, the real problem with these systems is that relying on them too much removes the ability for people to provide good customer service.

Funny thing, GDPR which is looked down here, has provisions concerning this problem: https://gdpr-info.eu/art-22-gdpr/ You can appeal automated decision making and companies have to provide you with such an option.

It's moronic. These retailers know whether you recently purchased the item you're returning.

Why are they counting it against you?

Because recent buyers are among the prime suspects for abuse, since some people will exploit retailers' lenient return policies as a free rental service. They'll buy something expensive, use it a handful of times during the conventional 30-day return window, and then return the used, depreciated item to the store for a full refund.

This item then has to be liquidated or refurbished, but even if it didn't, you've still probably lost the margin you made on it just by handling the return. Margins per unit are in typically in the realm of a few bucks, at best. Pennies count in retail.

You can get away with this a few times, but more than that, and a backend system like this will flag you as a "serial returner" and instruct the staff to refuse your return.

It'd be great if they could make it easy to allow managerial override, but unfortunately, many managers or other store employees work in cahoots with civilian accomplices to rip off the retailers with this type of scheme.

"Because recent buyers are among the prime suspects for abuse, since some people will exploit retailers' lenient return policies as a free rental service. They'll buy something expensive, use it a handful of times during the conventional 30-day return window, and then return the used, depreciated item to the store for a full refund."

I've met people who have bragged about doing that. So, it's a real thing. I always wondered if AutoZone's tool lending policy for customers was to just to help them or to partly counter people buying/returning tools just to fix an immediate problem. The main difference is the tool lending process requires them to hold your ID until you give the stuff back. Plus, it's a spare set in the back whose use doesn't reduce value of their main stuff.

I bet Walmart gets hit with hundreds of thousands to millions a year worth of returns for one-off uses of their products alone. Especially automotive or home improvement.

They definitely do not hold your ID, except perhaps to lend you the tools to replace your battery in the parking lot. Forcing a customer to drive without a hard copy of the driver license is not smart. The deposit you pay to rent the tool is identical to the purchase price. This is true for several states, including California.

Some of their rentable tools are better than the tools available for retail sale while costing less or including better accessories like a sturdy case.

I kept several rental tools. I rented a few with intent to purchase them and told that to the store personnel so they could order a replacement. One of my favorite tools is a serpentine belt wrench. The rental version comes with a case and a couple of extra crow foot wrenches. The retail version has fewer accessories and no case.

Some locations now only rent for 48 hours. I had no problem returning those rentals after a week.

Replacing suspension components often requires specialty tools.

You abd I might be talking different services. They did take our ID but charged us nothing. This has happened at several locations where we had a broken down car nearby. Maybe the policies vary by store or state. This was both in TN and MS.

Autozone’s tool rental (free) sells parts they sell, parts you might not otherwise be able to install without those tools.

One scheme I saw while employed at a Best Buy store many years ago. Employee uses employee discount to purchase greatly overpriced $35 usb cable for employee cost $5. Non-employee accomplice returns cable without receipt and receives store credit for $35. Rinse and repeat. I assume that loop hole has been closed, but it was my department manager's sibling who first explained this to me.

I find it profoundly unlikely that anyone is risking their salaried positions to help neighbor bob free rent a few tools.

Walmart operates in a lot of areas where the jobs are all dead end, low paying, or treat workers poorly. They do a lot of that themselves. It's why they have high turnover and theft among employees. They still have high turnover and theft after upping their wages. I rarely see the same person twice at the local one. In such environments, the people who are used to pulling for each other with favors will certainly do things at the companies' expense for friends or in trade for anothers' items.

They figure they'll be at another crap job in near future or just won't get prosecuted, that Walmart is a racket not giving them anything for their work, that they're corporate evil that deserve no sympathy, and so on so forth. So, why not get something in return or hook their friends up while they're there?" they'll ask. That's how some explained it to me that were fired for stealing or doing stuff for friends at various retail places. They're so good at risk assessment they tell people like me they barely know about what they do. It's unreal lol.

Note: I ran into this stuff mostly in low-income areas both city and rural. Gets worse if the management treats workers worse.

Not sure if it's still a thing, but I knew of people who'd buy something for a special occasion and then return it after the occasion or special event was over. I'm sure retail apparel is not oblivious to this practice.

I’m perplexed why this comment is being downvoted. I found it informative, plausible and well reasoned. That said, if there is evidence against the authors position, I’d love to see it to better help my understanding.

Yeah, that’s how expensive cameras were abused in old days with 30 day return policies and without restocking fees. Thanks to this, the return window is 14 days along with restocking fees for electronics items.

Agreed, this seems to turn a simple database lookup into a ml classification problem.. presumably this only happens for people who don’t provide a phone number or name?

In every instance where they can verify you purchased it returning it is a snap.

Absolutely ! Store policy is : please write out your complaint about our returns decision in triplicate, and submit the first copy to our office in Chersky, Siberia, Russian Federation (tiny small detail: town only accessible during the summer months, and even then, it's a bit of a gamble). Opening hours are from 9:00 am to 9:01 am, 3 days out of every decade, announced 2 hours in advance.

I like the intent, but given the obvious loopholes, I'm doubtful this has the desired effect.

It'll be interesting to see if this provision is actually doing anything in a year or so.

That’s great for Europe, but there is nothing similar in USA

There will be such a law, I am sure, and because companies abusing lack of law, the law will be draconian. Most likely, such law will be introduced after discovery of great abuse by one of market leaders.

Home depot has a real problem (I assume all retail does - my sister works Home Depot returns so I hear stories) with people who go into the store grab something, leave, then come back (perhaps to a different store) and return it "I don't need it". It is often obvious to the clerk this is what just happened, but how do you prove it?

Simple: in Australian we require proof of purchase. Typically the receipt from the store you bought it from, and the item must be returned to that store.

Australia’s largest home / hardware store also checks the items your taking against your receipt and stamps your receipt upon exiting the store, thereby reducing the incidence of thieves walking in empty handed and taking the item again while claiming they’ve already paid for it.

Why doesn’t Home Depot do something similar?

That doesn't provide 100% of the picture though.

Assuming the "largest home / hardware store" means Bunnings, this w/e I returned items to a different store but with a receipt - so that was simple, but different to what you've stated.

Not long ago I return $175 worth of goods without receipts (after return $300 with receipts, because apparently I lost some...) to a different store to the one I bought from. They checked my ID and I assume I'm now on their loss prevention records; but from what I know that's not likely to be an issue until there's an obvious pattern of abuse.

Bunnings definitely have people returning items that they've stolen from one store and returned to another without a receipt, but they have a loss prevention team to try and reduce that.

It's the trade off of reduced friction (and increased purchases) vs theft - eg I wouldn't have bought everything I did if I was concerned that the returns process wouldn't be seamless.

Anecdotal evidence to be sure, but I've had only excellent experiences with Bunnings staff on both returns and warranty claims.

Wal-Mart gives gift cards instead of money if you don't have a receipt for a return. Toys R Us used to give Jeffery Dollars for returned toys.

The system at some stores make it hard to return stuff, while others make it easier. If the customer is happy they will return later to buy more stuff if not happy the go somewhere else like a competitor.

Home depot can look up the purchase same store if you can provide the card you paid for it with at the same store, the physical receipt, an electronic copy of the receipt that is automatically offered with each transaction which must be declined by the customer each and every time, your pro extra number (electronic purchase tracking), the order number if ordered online or special ordered. It is even possible to return without a receipt provided you don't make a habit of it sufficient to get flagged.

Categorically the only people on earth having trouble with this lose receipts, say no to electronic copies of the receipt, and come back in all the time without receipts.

Home depot has about the friendliest return policies of any major retailer I've ever shopped with.

I returned a ~$150 item to Myer a few months ago, with nothing but a transaction ID provided to me over the phone by American Express (the account had been closed and I had no access to the credit card statements).

It turns out that the credit card network's transaction ID is completely useless to store staff and doesn't correspond to anything they can search up.

They went ahead and decided that the fact I could give them an ID number at all is sufficient proof of purchase and happily exchanged it.

(Of course, in this case I was returning a defective item and they're legally obliged to replace it - perhaps they're stricter on change-of-mind.)

Thanks mate, I never actually knew why the security guard at JB HiFi always needs to stamp my receipt.

Yep, as someone living in Australia, this whole article and thread baffles me.

Why would a store ever accept returns without a receipt?

The whole process is even more convenient now that email receipts are becoming common.

  Why doesn’t Home Depot do something similar?
Generally speaking, it's illegal to detain someone from leaving without probable cause of a crime.

(In contrast, Costco is empowered to do so via their membership agreement.)


"Generally speaking, it's illegal to detain someone from leaving without probable cause of a crime. (In contrast, Costco is empowered to do so via their membership agreement.)"

This is commonly thought but not quite right, either on facts, or on law.

First, people cite a membership agreement.

Let's take a look:



Nothing there.

Maybe it's elsewhere. Can't easily be found (not good for Costco!)

It does say they can adopt rules at any time. But false imprisonment requires voluntary consent, which is knowing. So that would not help them.

Besides that, false imprisonment, in most states, is both a felony and a tort :)

The answer to the question "are you likely to be able to sue costco successfully for trying to check your receipt when you don't want them to" - no, unless you revoke consent and they don't revoke your membership and kick you off the property :)

The answer to the question "can they legally detain you" - also no if you revoke consent (and the first person to say something about the 4th amendment here loses, since we are talking about private actors).

Voluntary consent is definitely a valid defense to false imprisonment. However the idea that consent in the membership agreement overrides anything that later happens is, at best, laughable.

Imagine the membership agreement says "you unconditionally consent to costco locking you up in the backroom until they get bored".

Do you think I don't have a false imprisonment claim, if, when they try to do so, i say "I do not consent to this", and they do it anyway?

How is that voluntary consent? Even if i did consent, i clearly and unequivocally revoked it. Maybe i breached a contract. Irrelevant, however. Remember, it's both a tort and a crime. Even if they have an argument about the tort (they don't really), they don't about the crime.

There is plenty of precedent on revocation of consent all the way up the Supreme Court (United States v. Drayton, etc). Saying "no" to a receipt checker and walking away almost certainly counts as proper consent revocation.

Now Costco certainly has the right to revoke my membership and remove me from their property. But they can't certainly can't detain me though once i've revoked consent. It even may have a reasonable argument that the first time it tries to detain me, it was within the consent (depends on what happens in the above story).

The second i revoke my consent by saying no, sorry, it's clearly false imprisonment (in states that don't have a shopkeepers privilege).

  Nothing there.
In the "General Policies" section in your first link, we find:

  Costco reserves the right to inspect any container, backpack, briefcase, etc., upon entering or leaving the warehouse.
One key claim Costco makes in justifying the inspections is to make sure you got everything you paid for. I have personally experienced at least three cases over the years where the process worked to my benefit.

Once (that I can remember), an item was misplaced by the checker into the items of the patron behind me (I had paid for something I wouldn't have gotten out the door with).

And at least twice, back when they accepted Discover and would allow up to $50 cash back on a purchase, I didn't realize that I hadn't gotten the money... only to have the receipt-checker proactively ask me if I got the cash. In both cases, a subsequent count of the register confirmed it, and I got the full amount of cash.

So, I'm content with Costco's process, but I don't allow proactive checks anywhere else (e.g. Fry's).

" Costco reserves the right to inspect any container, backpack, briefcase, etc., upon entering or leaving the warehouse. "

Errr, that doesn't give them the right to detain you, so no, that's not it. This is the more general stealing provision, and

1. Not even close to the same as receipt checking.

2. Probably void in a number of states (where receipt checking would not be)

  that doesn't give them the right to detain you
Nobody's arguing that they have a power to detain you without probable cause, but they can (and have, many times) cancel a membership for noncompliance. But to say there is "nothing there" in the agreement on the topic is disingenuous.

Of course, those who aren't members anyway aren't really risking anything.

I think the automated system can do a bunch to stop fraud, but in the OPs case, a local manager should be able to do a common sense test to provide the customer the appropriate level of service instead of being flagged a hard no.

Home Depot had USD$88.5 B revenue for 2016.

Kroger had $108 B.

Walmart had $485.9 B.

When you're selling that kind of volume, you're not doing it without algorithmic help.

Absolutely agree that OP should have been able to more easily get an in-person override. But I understand why the original rejection happened: or rather, I understand why HD uses a data mining company to attempt to prevent theft.

PS: Side note, you'd be surprised how big of a chunk of theft directly involves receipts / returns in some way or another.

> When you're selling that kind of volume, you're not doing it without algorithmic help.

These companies have been profitable for a long time prior to now. Why is it that they suddenly need algorithmic help?

I'd be very surprised if their net margins haven't shrunk, comparing 50 or 100 years ago.

If you're running a < 5% net profit margin, as most of these businesses are, then 1.5% inventory shrink (approx average) is a pretty big deal.

The number can’t tell you that in isolation: Home Depot might gross that much but they also have hundreds of thousands of employees at thousands of stores. The amount of money a particular manager is responsible for is going to be a lot more reasonable, especially when you think about how much of that is going to be a few contractors buying large amounts on a regular basis.

In any case it’s ridiculous that a manager can’t look at someone’s history of buying lots of stuff and override a one-time return for a fraction of a percent of their recent history.

Ridiculous until you realize that there's an approximately equal percentage of internal and external theft in retail.

The right answer here is that the algorithm probably screwed up in this instance. There was a clear signal for a legitimate customer: large order, small return.

If your concern is pervasive internal theft by your managers you need a lot more than this speed bump.

Saying that the algorithm screwed up is confusing a symptom with the problem: making business processes so inflexible that local staff cannot correct mistakes.

I'm not sure local retail managers have any discretion anymore. They no longer actually run the store.

Unfortunately this then enables fraud by allowing the manager to collude with someone and override the 'no' for fake returns by them, perhaps splitting the 'profit' generated. Perhaps the loss from this sort of white collar crime was predicted to be too high to be worth it.

I'm admittedly not used to thinking at the management scale of these sort of big-box retailers, but I'd think "we can't systemically trust our store managers to not commit fraud" is on its own a large problem that merits solving outside of trying to plug all potential fraud vectors.

Usually, the fraud doesn't involve with managers. Usually cashiers or customer service folks in the return counter collude with customers: switching upc codes to swap a high price item with a low price one. LP (loss and prevention) usually focus more about this kind of collusion than a random $10 theft.

In a case I know of, LP colluded with the customer service manager to steal $10K cash, by shifting the camera focus from the money counting area. In this case, both the LP manager and the customer service manager got fired, and, of course, without any charges, since there is no proof.

At Fry's electronics, to return a product, LP has to key in his password as well. If the price of returned product is more than $300, LP and some other manager have to key in their passwords.

> * Home depot has a real problem (I assume all retail does - my sister works Home Depot returns so I hear stories) with people who go into the store grab something, leave, then come back (perhaps to a different store) and return it "I don't need it". It is often obvious to the clerk this is what just happened, but how do you prove it?*

Isn't that why receipts are printed?

With a receipt and/or the credit card you bought with is pretty common.

I didn't even know you could return anything anywhere without a receipt.

Home Depot will allow it. I've done it - they don't like it (the odds are much higher that you stole it in the first place), but they will allow it. Enough customers who spend a lot of money at the store return things all the time that they need to make this a pleasant experience so they keep coming back.

Note that on the scale of Home Depot the guy complaining is a small customer. The big customers spend thousands of dollars there very week and return 10s of dollars every week. (buy 100 2x4, use 95 and return the 5, then repeat 100 for the next project tomorrow - they need the return because they have to pass the receipts on to their customers who might check to be sure they are not cheated out of $20 on a $15000 project)

Yeah.. I'm confused; I return a lot of stuff at hardware stores, because I suck at buying the right things. If I don't have a receipt, returns differ by brand:

- Menards; just added ability to look up your receipt yourself at their self-help terminals, so now they require you find the receipt there

- Lowes; requires the card you bought it on

- Harbor Freight; can help find the receipt, or will give in-store credit

- Home Depot; no idea, who shops here, it's way more expensive and they have nothing in stock lol

With home improvement returns make sense. You’re going to want to start the day with more than you’ll need for certain jobs.

Menard's is great. If you don't remember when you bought the item, you just scan it and they look up when it was purchased using your card.

Require a receipt for all returns?

Or, as many stores do now, only issue store credit/store specific gift cards when there is no receipt for the return. That way, even if they are stealing and returning or a serial return junkie, the "money" is only useful in that store. It will still count as a profitable sale.

What's wrong with that?

I assume by 'grab' they mean shoplift or less politely, steal.

There's also the trick of rooting through the store garbage for receipts, then going through the store to find the corresponding items and 'returning' things you never bought with the found receipt.

A friend of mine found some shoes she liked in the right size at the wrong price in one store, and in the wrong size at the right price in another. She bought both and "returned" the wrong sized ones to the higher priced store.

Return policy arbitrage. Cool!

This really seems like a solved problem in Australia. Once you leave the store with your purchase your reciept is stamped. If a stamped reciept is coming out of the store it's a simple check of the date and time, which can be verified by a checout-person. Ezpz. The biggest issue for theft that I saw was putting other items inside the box of a larger item. Say you buy a lawn mower, walk the box around the store, put some other items inside that box, pay for the lawn mower.

Returns are mandated here though and I guess the US is anti-consumer in a lot of ways so companies won't really be forced to find solutions that don't explicitly benefit them.

Nobody has much trouble with these sorts of returns. Its stores that have more liberal policies like letting you return without a receipt that in turn must use something like TRE to flag fraud, theft, and abuse.

Of course if you only allowed returns strictly with proper receipts all your challenges shockingly disapear except the all the people that are pissed off because their return is denied instead of only the minority now.

Your proposed solution doesn’t resolve the issue you’re responding to, or a number of other issues I can think of. And it doesn’t resolve any issues for returns without receipt, which is definitely a large concern.

I really don’t think Australia has this solved any better than the US, if this is the only solution.

What about gift returns?

"grab" as in "didn't pay for"

It's unfortunate, but I have seen the other side of the coin. Waiting in line behind people in the return line that have obviously bought stuff at yard sales or similar, and trying to return it for cash. No idea why they don't weight "proof of purchase" higher in their algorithm though.

What about gift returns?

The same thing happened to me: doing a remodel, spent thousands of dollars at Home Depot, returned a small fraction of it, banned.

The ban seems to have expired, but for three years I had to get my wife to go return things for me.

And all this for what? "In some rare cases, less than one tenth of one percent of returns, we catch something fraudulent".

"Despite 99.9%+ of this activity being perfectly reasonable, we see fit to limit it because it might help us catch <0.1%"

Was the email you guessed perhaps first.last@homedepot.ca?

I honestly don’t think many executives are trying to hide their emails that hard. Steve Jobs always got a lot of press when he would reply to customers, but the reality is that executives actually value this communication. It helps them learn of problems they may otherwise be insulated from. Of course executives generally also don’t make their email too readily available because then everyone would contact them and that wouldn’t scale.

I have emailed various executives over the years and don’t recall it ever not working. It even worked with Comcast to my surprise - the next day someone from some department like “executive customer service” contacted me.

Be aware that these guys rarely read their email themselves. They have a dedicated team that handles all these requests, usually on their own.

(I’m not an executive, but I have good insights)

Yeah, this of course happens at the CEO levels, but I don't think it undermines the principle. If those people reading the emails are empowered to actually fix problems and if they are reporting back experiences to the CEO or relevant executives the information still makes it into the org.

In my experience, based on the email thread I think the CEO of Home Depot actually did read it. I left out a step in my story. What actually happened is the VP of Loss Prevention emailed me asking for my number so he could call me. I gave it and he called me. He actually replied to me via the original email. From the thread I could tell that the CEO forwarded it to the VP of Home Depot North America with something like "Jane, can you look into this?" then that person forwarded it to the VP with a more specific request. Based on my internal experiences at big companies this is pretty common.

Fine, but that's even better.

It means they are doing something like using the execs inbox as a black-box monitoring stream to find out about problems that internal info gathering will miss. And better still, actually paying people to triage the alerts!

This has been my experience as well, I emailed Lisa Su about some issue I was having with an AMD product and she (or her team that monitors her email) were very responsive and helped me sort my issue out.

Jeff bezos sends all his mail to a low grade support team in India who have terrible canned responses

I tried jeff@ once. I received a quality reply in <24 hours and my issue was resolved. As far as I can remember the English was perfect.

I got a canned reply that didn't address the fundamental issue, but yes the English was perfect.

Hilarious if true, given that Amazon frontline support is generally excellent.

you can mostly guess these emails because they all use predictable patterns.

The trick I use is to just find any random persons email with a google search (ex "@homedepot.com") and use the same pattern for the person I am trying to reach at the given organization, it works most of the time.

That should work for almost any reputable company. They know that pissed off customers are loud, and they know those customers will probably try to email the CEO. So make it easy, and let the executive response team turn a loud angry customer into a happy, content customer.

I don't abuse it, but let me tell you, when I emailed Mary Barra @ GM a few months ago because the regular customer service was having no luck finding the car I had already ordered and paid for, even though OnStar showed it 20 miles away -- a gal from the executive response team called me a couple hours later and she already located the car, had someone on-site do a physical verification, and arranged for a truck to go pick it up and take it to the dealer so I could take delivery. Then she called several more times over the next couple days to make sure everything from that moment forward was going smoothly.

She turned me from a rapidly-getting-more-angry customer to a much more relaxed, happy customer with a bit of renewed faith that GM isn't totally a lost cause ;-).

Heh, I did the same kind of thing with a government agency. Well, more like 50 addresses.

I got a few replies.

Now I'm filing an Access to Information request to see what happened with all of the emails.

I’ve found that this is a non-issue as long as you still have the receipt and/or credit card used for purchase.

This seems like a legit response for returns without a receipt.

Yikes, that's pretty horrific. I think I'll be paying with cash at these places from now on.

What is it you would hope to accomplish with that?

by paying cash he avoids getting a credit card discount and other purchase protections but at least he gives the store a discount on processing fees.

Nothing to tie it to "you" so it's not your card that's used in conjunction with other items in the bad-item-returner flagging algorithm. Many stores ask for ID to return items in different circumstances (e.g. cash purchase, wanting cash back or not accepting store credit, etc).

That doesn't actually solve the issue many times.

Some stores simply require an ID for any and all refunds. The reason for this is fraud, actually: I worked at a retail pharmacy in the US, and we had a group of people that would look through the trash to find cash receipts. They would proceed to another store to steal the merchandise, and then to a third store to refund the item.

Nearly all stores require ID if you do not have a receipt and enter it in their system. It might not be your card, but it'll be tied to your name and ID.

Would not the receipt be id to the store some how?

Not really. Sure, it is proof of purchase, but we are talking fraud. Lots of folks throw receipts away.

These folks searched the trash cans. Got receipts out that said method of payment was cash, stole the item and "returned" it. Yet another scam is to take such receipts from the trash, buy the item at a discount, and then return it to a more expensive store.

Sure, the store can see the item was paid for by someone, and even see the store it was bought from. But it can't know if the person just found the receipt and is returning stolen goods or goods bought elsewhere so long as the barcode matches up.

No reason a store can't require an ID to return something.

They don't need to tie the purchases to you. Only the returns. Even in cases where you are banned from a store for excessive returns, you are still perfectly allowed to keep shopping there. You just can't return anything.

So when you return items, they will ask for your id, even if you paid cash originally.

Even if I get banned from returning, if it's a high value item I can get a friend to do the return or even pay someone if needed. I'm yet to have shopped anywhere that requires ID for a return too though, but even if that changes, cash is still a massive improvement in this sense.

Is this behavior stated explicitly in the store's return policy? If not, that sounds a little like fraud. Its a kind of bait and switch: "Shop with confidence because of our awesome return policy!... except for you, we don't serve 'your kind' here"

Home depot advertises: "Be happy 100% with your purchase or we'll take it back. No problem.". Sure sounds like denying people the ability to return items is false advertising at best or blatant fraud.

Of the examples given in the story, all of them mentioned a "warn" before being unable to return. So it's not as if they weren't given advance notice.

The story wasn't clear of whether just future purchases would not be allowed to be returned, or if they were banned from returning anything (including previous purchases) after the warning.

The text of the warning seemed to indicate that, for the next 365 days, no returns would be allowed. I suspect that is intended to be interpreted as any returns, even if it were for something already purchased.

This is actually one of the major advantages retail still has over online purchases: returns to online providers require paying for shipping, and the initial shipping costs aren't refunded either. Even with 'free shipping', the cost of shipping + everyone else's returns is just built in.

That said, this seems like just bad policy that leads to the problem. Why should stores allow returns without a receipt or other proof (lookup using credit card)? That seems to be the major issue. If they require proof of purchase, it means they at least aren't refunding theft or products purchased from other stores.

Accepting returns of opened but non-damaged product that can't be resold (eg: missing parts/packaging, obviously used, etc) also seems to be opening themselves up to abuse. Of course, how they handle this has to take into consideration the fact that easy returns are a competitive advantage. This is maybe where the analytics firm can step in, to help identify people that frequently do this.

> returns to online providers require paying for shipping, and the initial shipping costs aren't refunded either.

Amazon offers various kinds of free / flat-price shipping, and free return-shipping for flawed products

> Even with 'free shipping', the cost of shipping + everyone else's returns is just built in.

Delivering a package to a local retailer is customer-paid shipping, just in effort/gas/wear-and-tear, not simple cash.

> Delivering a package to a local retailer is customer-paid shipping, just in effort/gas/wear-and-tear, not simple cash.

Potentially. In the case of Home Depot, I usually take my returns when I need to go anyway to shop there. Kills two birds with one stone.

Speaking of which, I've got 3 bags of stuff to return. Hope they take it back! Not stuff I've used (like I wasn't sure what size window latch I needed, so I bought 4 different sizes, checked them on the window without opening the package, and have to return the other 3)

This kind of stuff is such a boon with kids. I don't have time for 3 trips to Home Depot in one day. But I do over the course of 3-4 weeks.

I did a return on Amazon last week where not only was there no shipping charge, but I didn't have any additional expense...box, label, time, gas, etc. They scheduled UPS for the pickup, and the UPS driver brought the label with them.

Not all returns are free with Amazon. Generally speaking, there needs to be a defect or error on the part of the seller (ex: listing has incorrect info) in order for it to be free. If you classify your return as "No longer need this item.", then the shipping amount will be deducted from your return, in my experience.

If you return a lot of items and it's repeatedly defective/incorrect info/<whatever makes return shipping free>, then you'll probably be flagged just like Home Depot is doing.

In the UK we have the Distance Selling Act;


"You must tell the customer they can cancel their order up to 14 days after their order is delivered. They don’t need to give a reason for cancelling. If you don’t tell the customer about their right to cancel, they can cancel at any time in the next 12 months."

So it would be illegal for Amazon to remove the right to return items bought online.

The Tories (currently in government) seem to have added a lot of exemptions to this; like the dumb £42 limit (they really don't like poor people) but it still carries some protection, And if the government hadn't also knackered the legal aid system it could be enforced at the small claims court level too... oh well.

That's not removing the right to return items, you're misunderstanding.

They're saying you can return items, and if the reason is defect or problem, then they can (as they should) wear the cost of that.

They're also saying that you can return an item, "because I don't like it/want it", and that's no fault of theirs, so you're free to return the item, but the cost of doing so is (and should be) yours.


Yes. It costs less than half as much, provides lower user friction and makes almost everyone happier, than if you paid for it at point of use.

What tax do you pay Amazon?

The only thing I can think is that they are building a monopoly which might be a problem in the future.

All of us who shop there pay increased prices (The wal-mart effect is in full force on Amazon -- they're pretty rarely the cheapest).

I still compare prices when I'm about to buy something from Amazon and they are almost always the cheapest still. That's even before considering the 5% rewards the amazon credit card gives me. Maybe you are seeing certain types of merchandise that went up there? Or my purchase habits just happen to line up with their pricing more than yours.

The laws of economics are unbreakable. You have to realize that someone is paying for the shipping and that someone is always the customers. Or at least temporarily, investors.

But another very strong law of economics is that scale reduces costs.

There are other economic principles that apply to shipping specifically. It's a pretty old field.

A last-mile delivery truck goes out full and comes back empty. That's terrible logistics, but the fact that it happens anyway suggests that shipping from your home to a UPS center should be basically free - the marginal cost is nearly 0.

Amazon returns have to go through UPS. If Amazon sends out a lot more stuff through UPS than it receives from UPS, returns might just genuinely be free, occupying what would otherwise be slack in the system.

true but probably not in the way you meant

> This is actually one of the major advantages retail still has over online purchases: returns to online providers require paying for shipping, and the initial shipping costs aren't refunded either.

I disagree. At least here in europe, with mandatory 14-day return period, buying and returning something feels a lot easier than in a brick and mortar store.

I'm not quite sure, but I think even the shipping costs (for items above 40€, I think?) are covered by the return policy legislation. I appreciate this minimal set of standards.

The ecommerce version of some brick and mortar store likely monitor Amazon and change their prices to match. If there's an item on sale and it's cheaper on a store that have a B&M presence...I'd buy from there and ship to my house. Why? If I need to return for whatever reason I can. I don't need to pretend "Item doesn't match description".

"You could do things that are inside the posted rules, but if you are violating the intent of the rules, like every item you’re purchasing you’re using and then returning, then at a certain point in time you become not a profitable customer for that retailer,”

Uh...I'm not a lawyer but I really don't think that interpretation of contract law would hold up in court. They offered a contract to purchase an item, the consumer accepted it. Making that contract then reliant on their intent rather than whats written seems a pretty obvious violation of Contra proferentem...am I nuts?

A return policy doesn't mean the store is a 15 day rental service with no cost. Those exist but they cost money. So the idea that returns aren't unlimited is reasonable. I'm going to suspect the the lawyers that draft the language know what they are doing the Mr. Rittman who is a VP not a lawyer is not speaking using accurate legal terminology but rather colloquial terminology. There is still a huge problem in contract law with how contracts between large companies and individuals are neither read nor understood by the individual but we pretend that they did.

This is probably why they don't stop you from doing the return you're trying to do, but instead tell you that you are banned from any future returns.

Though I don't know how that would hold up if you'd already bought a second item that you wanted to return the next day.

Most likely the contract doesn't require them to accept returns at all.

I think that is a really anti-consumer way to read this:


From the actual link [0]

Like many retailers, we use a third party to help prevent losses by detecting improper returns [...] Reimbursements on returns lacking proof of purchase may be denied or limited and state sales tax and fees will not be reimbursed. [...] If we caution you or deny your return, you may request a copy of your Return Activity Report by calling 1-888-224-1920

So, they don't promise to unconditionally return items. I wonder what a 'Return Activity Report' looks like?

0. https://www.bestbuy.com/site/help-topics/return-exchange-pol...

Link dead. It now a return "promise".

Dead link

The court is not retarded. Everyone knows what's the purpose of return service. I'm sure no court will have a problem siding with the company if you are a serial returner.

I guess as long as it's implemented well it will never matter to anyone who isn't a cheat.

But as one of countless time-strapped homeowners who can't remember if he needs a 5/8" widget or a 1/2" widget, I frequently buy both and return the extra at a later date. I can only hope I don't get flagged. Frankly it's a big part of the value of shopping at a local retailer.

Non-cheat here who got hit by best buy. I returned a Surface Pro and some other stuff -- they took it back but flagged me for no returns. So I stopped buying stuff there.

I had a similar experience. I bought an open-box sound bar for my tv, got home and unboxed it to find that the sound bar was DOA and the serial number didn't match the box.

I had bought it from a Best Buy about an hour from my home, and tried to return it, with receipt, to the Best Buy 15 minutes from home since I had bought it on a Sunday afternoon and wanted to return it same day if possible. I was told I had to bring it back to the original store since the serials didn't match; okay great Best Buy didn't do it's job checking serials when whoever had this item before me return-swapped it, but sure I'll go out of my way.

I bring it back to the original store and they then tell me I'm on the no-return list from that time for 120 days. I've since stopped shopping at Best Buy.

That one's sort of understandable. Bad circumstance for everyone. Best Buy didn't do their due diligence, but you very clearly could have been the fraudster pulling the swap rather than the hapless victim.

Do they tell you "you are on notice, we won't accept returns from you anymore"?

Yeah, my ban was temporary (120 days?).

Off-topic, but very curious: why'd you return the Surface?

- When I unboxed it, on first boot it bluescreened

- The stylus' battery was dead out of box

- Sleep/wake behavior was not what I like -- took too long for me

- Bluescreened about 3x/day on normal use

The amusing thing is that retailers are going to have the data that shows this works. Return fraud will certainly go down.

What they're not going to have is data on the people who choose not to shop at these stores because of this policy, both those who have been incorrectly identified as fraudsters and those who just don't want to bother with the hassle.

> What they're not going to have is data on the people who choose not to shop at these stores because of this policy,

Why won't they have that data? They will certainly know if sales have gone down, and they can try it out in different areas to remove other factors.

Because sales has thousands of variables at play and this is just one. It won't be possible to attribute the degree of the loss of sales to a single variable.

the key to the pay wall is in the above link. thanks

I'm getting a paywall and there doesn't seem to be a key in the link.

It seems to be based on referrer. You can save the article to Pocket, open Pocket, click "go to original", and bypass.

So, in order to prevent fraud, companies like Best Buy contract out to companies like Retail Equation to evaluate (and deny) returns. While I can appreciate why they feel it's necessary, this seems like the kind of thing that credit card chargebacks were made to combat.

Exactly, I would expect this to be a 100% legit chargeback case, which is going to hurt them in the long run.

From their policy: https://www.bestbuy.com/site/help-topics/return-exchange-pol...

"Like many retailers, we use a third party to help prevent losses by detecting improper returns, and, except where prohibited, require a valid ID for all store returns that lack proof of purchase. Reimbursements on returns lacking proof of purchase may be denied or limited and state sales tax and fees will not be reimbursed."

And the Visa guidelines for chargebacks, page 28 lists the reason codes: https://usa.visa.com/dam/VCOM/download/merchants/chargeback-...

My read puts Best Buy on solid footing here. If you're just returning it because you're unsatisfied, Visa doesn't seem to consider that valid for a chargeback. If it's defective and you have proof of purchase, you had enough evidence that BB would accept the return.

The last bullet point of that section states: "The cardholder claims that the terms of the sale were misrepresented by the merchant".

It also states in their return policy disclosure section: "For card-present transactions, Visa will accept that proper disclosure has occurred before a transaction is completed if the following (or similar) disclosure statements are legibly printed on the face of the transaction receipt near the cardholder signature area or in an area easily seen by the cardholder"

I'd argue that unless the receipt also mentions Best Buy's use of a third party to potentially deny a return, they have failed to properly disclose their return policy, making a valid claim that Best Buy misrepresented their terms of sale.

They would be on shaky ground with credit cards, which is why these terms state they only apply when "proof of purchase" is lacking - a CC purchase has intrinsic proof of purchase.

Where this surveillance system has become a major pain in my ass is returns over 90 days at Home Depot. The last period I had intensive HD purchases, I could count on returning stuff [0] late that I'd rather not stock, eating the sales tax, and then spending the store credit. Now it's be sure to return within 90 days or plan on keeping it to not end up flagged.

Also, I have personally stuck black tape [1] over the serial number and the barcodes on my drivers' license. When asked to show ID, this lets me exercise judgment about whether the rarer bits are revealed. This is especially handy at unknown liquor stores where the cashier will not have the courtesy to even ask before swiping your license in an electronic reader, backhauling it into the surveillance matrix.

[0] Unopened, new condition, completely resalable.

[1] Sharpie-colored masking tape. Electrical tape tends to be transparent to IR!

Not to detract from your overall point, but electrical tape isn't transparent to IR. Quite the opposite, in fact.

It doesn't matter though, because the scanners don't use IR. They use a red laser which is in the visible spectrum. Any tape that visibly blocks the barcode will work.

Well then, I must have been unlucky with the brand I attempted to use as a flag for an opto interrupter - it definitely passed enough IR for the thing to not trip.

And yeah, red lasers are quite common. But that doesn't rule out the possibility of a reader using IR - my experience with the opto left me paranoid on the matter.

I mean, a flag that moves in front of an ir sensor might not work if the light can leak between the flag and the sensor housing. Also, not all sensor housings are sealed from behind. Some of them are just a tiny folded-metal can that have gaps at the edges. It really depends on the configuration of your setup.

Unless the tape has holes, though, you can consider it opaque. Actually, because it absorbs and blocks ir, it's often used as a target for infrared temperature measurement of difficult-to-measure objects.

This was many years ago, so I don't remember the exact details besides it being one of those basic black plastic housing straight-through ones. I had been surprised because the quite-black electrical tape turned out to be seemingly transmissive. I probably solved the problem with something equally hacky, like sandwiching a piece of plain paper between the folded over tape, or perhaps a bit of metal.

If it blocked say 90% of IR, it would congruent with both of our points. I'll have to investigate further - it would make a much simpler ID mask.

(hm. Just did an experiment with two IR remotes and it did appear to block for the most part. One of the remotes worked really close up, but I can't easily rule out leakage or some other type of coupling.)

You can just demag it

It's really interesting that their web site says you only need to show ID if you don't have proof of purchase (and it's only in the fine print at the bottom, the top indicates you need it in any case). I recently had to return a defective router ($350) and the receipt said I needed ID to return it. Of course, you don't get the receipt until after you purchase the item otherwise I would have just ordered the router from Amazon. Anyway, I did not want to show an ID, I had my receipt, I had only bought this thing a few days prior, it was broken, and I didn't want my driver's license in yet another set of databases just waiting to be hacked. However, the customer service person was super nice and didn't even ask me for my ID.

"Not as Described" generally covers "unsatisfied". The return policy being not as described may even qualify.

Visa tends to side with the cardholder on chargebacks more than is probably fair, too.

> and state sales tax and fees will not be reimbursed

Does this imply they just pocket the sales tax or receive it as a refund in some way?

Not an accountant, but my understanding is that the retailer is collecting the tax on behalf of the state. Thus if they're explicitly stating they're not refunding the sales tax, they have to give it to the state, because those funds weren't theirs to begin with.

But if they accept the return, there is now no sales tax due to the state? Customer should get 100% back.

They have no way of knowing WHAT state. You might have bought the widget in a different state with lower sales tax.

Yeah, that's an odd one.

I bought a Christmas gift for a family member at Toys R Us in King County WA and exchanged it in another county.

They refunded me 12c for the difference in sales tax between counties.

Amex and Mastercard provide return protection for items up to a few hundred dollars. Many Visa issuers offer it as well.

Wow, that document is really informative. Thanks for sharing that. Great point about not-liking-it being an insufficient threshold for returns.

If I were blocked from returning things due to returning, say, a camera or a trio of phone cases that weren't the right ones, and then later had a defective washing machine or monitor, it seems like Code 53 (Not as Described or Defective Merchandise) would be a valid reason for a return, though.

But, as others have said ... this seems like a compelling reason not to even be a customer.

Purchases made within 50 miles of your home are always chargeback eligible.

Many credit cards come with return protection, so if the retailer won't accept a return you can file a return protection claim. I did that once before with AMEX: https://www.americanexpress.com/us/credit-cards/features-ben...

Great idea, brick and mortar retail. That looks ought to help speed up your Amazon-sponsored demise. Amazon's return policy is so flexible it sets a very high bar for customer service

Amazon also bans people that their algorithm says return too much (by closing their accounts entirely), and they'll probably block the rest of your household at the same time, and it needed courts to force them to let people still access digital stuff they already owned (Kindle ebooks, Audible audiobook downloads, ...). They are nice and customer-friendly, until you trip the wrong rule.

I only know one person who this happened to (the ban). It took a somewhat ridiculous amount of abuse on their part. Like thousands of dollars worth of PC parts being used and returned.

Amazon does exactly the same thing as best buy, except it's worse, because they don't suspended your return prevliages for 365 days, they just ban you from Amazon forever.

So, regular Amazon customers are subsidising customers that are abusing returns? And you, as a regular customer are happy for this? Why?

Also, if you think Amazon won't use a secret, proprietary algorithm to identify and ban people abusing their return policies (with limited to no appeal or recourse), I have a bridge to sell you.

Funny how folks complain about pricing built in to account for things like return policy but not much a peep about pricing that accounts for profits to share holders. It is even funnier because only one of those expenses provides a competitive advantage in the market.

You are correct, customers at Amazon pay for the operation that is known as Amazon and their policies, such as generous returns. Customers also shop there for the convenience of those returns.

I don't shop at Amazon so that I can rent things for free. I've also never had a problem with a B&M store accepting returns.

Perhaps someday, a B&M store's algorithm will flag me as a problem customer. It's just as likely that Amazon will, though.

Amazon is, or was until very recently, running at a loss. Most companies can't afford to do that for long.

Depends how you define loss, a lot of people would disagree with you. They have had significant positive free cash flow for a long time, over a decade at least.[1] But since they reinvest the profits this becomes low net income.

[1] https://ycharts.com/companies/AMZN/free_cash_flow

This behaviour is illegal in Australia and many retailers still manage to make a profit.

Amazon does this as well. I don't know why they would this and treat customers this way, especially customers who purchase a lot of things from them, but I do know it's not fraud. It's not even clear how this is legal since the return clause is part of a contract. But they will close your account, prematurely end your Prime membership, and there's nothing you can do about it. Nor can you know when this will happen. That's how much companies like Amazon and Best Buy value their customers. To say they treat them like shit is an understatement.

Imagine a "customer" hates Amazon, he can get Amazon to lose a lot of money by buying a lot of things, open them, then return everything.

Amazon won't be a sustainable business if it can't reject "customers".

Rejecting customers is not the same as breaking an agreement and literally stealing money from customers by terminating a subscription they've already paid for without a refund. If someone came up to you on the street and took money from you by force, I doubt you'd be as understanding but the two situations are equivalent: theft of real money.

Businesses don't have to transact with people that cause them to lose money.

Why the hell did your other comment about pregnant women got flagged?

Yup, I got flagged and only ever returned items THAT WERE NOT EVEN THE LISTED PRODUCT THAT I ORDERED. And rather than just punishing me by not letting me buy from randos not fulfilled by Amazon, they go all out in excommunicating me from the ~13% and growing of civilization that Amazon controls. And they give customers the same amount of "strikes" (trying to get scams or seller mistakes resolved) no matter the volume of purchases. But that's the future. These companies operate like the Chinese Communist Party and soon all of society will be run on this sort of repression.

This could also be "how retailers are going to lose my business"

If you're taking advantage of returns in a way that hurts retailers, they want to lose your business. Chances are that's not you, but it's probably still worth it if they can eliminate the free riders.

Seriously. If you're like any normal person and occasionally return stuff, you're fine. If you're just "renting" products 30 days at a time (yes, this really does happen), retailers don't want anything to do with you. If you fall into this second category, instead of getting all indignant, perhaps stop taking advantage of return policies and retailers won't shun you.

Did you read the article?

The guy who was flagged had spent thousands at the store, and bought 3 phone cases for 80$, then returned them as his only return ever, and got flagged.

That's one side of the story, according to the person who was denied future refunds.

Yup. Guilty people tend to not admit to their crimes.

Go to the forums of any major online game such as League of Legends or World of Warcraft and you'll semi-frequently find posts from players complaining about being banned for no reason at all until a moderator or CS rep finally has to step in and say "Actually, here's exactly what you did to get banned" and it's always a legitimate reason.

> That's one side of the story, according to the person who was denied future refunds.

Ah yes, because machine learning algorithms never falsly flagged anyone.

This is as evil as AI/ML gets: a human standing in front of a dumb ML algorithm saying "the robot says you're scum, so you're scum!".

The return history image he presented seems to corroborate it.

Where do you plan to get things then?

with those who do not go back on their own return policy.

Which retailer is this?

99.9% of retailers that accept returns are going to use algorithms to flag and block fraudulent returns.

IMO no-questions asked returns should not be a thing. When you buy something, you should make sure it is the right thing for your need. If it doesn't work as advertised, sure return it. But if you bought something knowing full well that it isn't right for you, you shouldn't be able to return it later.

For example, you buy a pair of shoes. Unless the sole is coming off or it has some other defect, you don't get to return it a week later. When buying online, the return conditions should also include size issues. Sometimes the indicated size does not fit as well as you'd like to and there's no way for you to find that out without wearing it.

Your last sentence shows why no questions policies exist. It’s easy to say people show pick the right thing first but in real life most products have details which are hard to learn in advance and it’s often hard to find all of the details in advance (e.g. maybe you bought an appliance which does what you want, fits the space, but the geometry for the power/water/vent/etc. is wrong for your house. Whose fault is that?).

If you try to require justifications, all you’re doing is paying people to interrogate customers - increasing the odds that they become former customers - and the people you’d most want to stop are also the most likely to have come up with a good excuse.

In my view, no-questions-asked returns is a marketing strategy like any other. The larger retailers who can absorb the cost of accepting returns gain a competitive advantage over stores that have a less efficient returns process. It also reduces or perhaps even eliminates credit card charge-backs.

All other things being equal, I would prefer to shop at a store with a pleasant return process. This advantage could outweigh the cost of taking back a few returns.

I'm more surprised to see that clothing retailers weren't listed. It's incredibly common for "customers" to buy clothes and return them the next day.

Working at an on-line shoes, apparel, and accessories retailer, my understanding is that there are four categories of people regularly returning items:

* Stylists - they buy for a client (celebrities, wealthy people) and send back things that don't look appropriate

* Entertainment - TV and movies regularly buy a lot of clothes and return most of them

* Renters - people who may spend tens of thousands of dollars per year but only have $2,000 in lifetime sales -- everything else is returned

* Legitimate customers - they might buy two or three of the same item to find the one that fits

There are things we do to help with the last case and to help people figure out what will fit before they purchase the item, and those have been proven to work. Stylists and Entertainment buyers are tolerated. Renters get picked out with data analysis, but the queries tend to be expensive in time and resources and require human discretion, something missing in the Best Buy story.

Renters - people who may spend tens of thousands of dollars per year but only have $2,000 in lifetime sales -- everything else is returned

Massive problem in jewellery - people "buy" an item, wear it to that dinner party to impress their friends, return it a day or two later saying "when I got it home I decided it didn't suit me"

Restocking fee should take care of that.

Then that pisses off the "legitimate" returners. It's a fine line.

Would it make sense to have retailers that cater to these heavy returners? Charge them a subscription and give them a monthly box they can return items in, allow partial refunds with a well described contract, and generally work with their use cases?

I think I first saw one of those nearly a decade ago: it was definitely high-end, catering to men, and all designer labels. I honestly don't know if it survived or failed because the category isn't interesting to me.

Returns are the problem: returns may not get the nice discounts for shipping, they require manual review of the products (are it the correct SKU, the correct size, is it in a resellable condition, etc.), restocking and reinsertion into buyable inventory, etc. And then refund processing, which may take 7-10 days or more.

But it doesn't address the problem of renters: they won't buy a subscription box if there's a monthly fee associated with it. They like being able to get new shoes, clothes, and accessories to wear once and then return for free. Identifying renters and either directly contacting them to change their behavior (this is high touch, but the company culture encourages this) or removing them as customers are the best solutions I've seen to date.

There are already services that do this. I've seen ads for a shoe service (name escapes me) and a clothing service (Gwynnie Bee).

Zappos (owned by Amazon) has unlimited returns for a year. It makes shopping for shoes really convenient — you can order multiple sizes, styles, etc and just send back the ones you don’t want to keep.

The downside is that you buy them all and get a refund on return.

You mean Stitch Fix?

Clothing retailers would never. Most women I know purchase parts of outfits nearly in bulk to try on at home with their full closets available to them and return whatever doesn't work. It's not worth upsetting an entire market over the few people who abuse the rules.

Formalwear is a bigger issue, but not many stores will give refunds for hemmed, tailored, or altered clothing returns, and you'd be defeating the purpose of having that type of outfit if you went out without them. It's been a few years since I bought a tux, but I think places like that probably have limited return and exchange policies.

Returned clothes are surely significantly easier to restock than opened high ticket electrical goods. The typical wholesale values involved are probably very different too.

Clothing is further complicated by the fact that not having time to try something on in store and returning it later is typically considered a pretty legitimate and widely practiced shopping pattern, and one that most clothing stores encourage, at least in my experience. I'd imagine red flagging this would materially impact sales overall in some places.

I do that mostly because the stores I go to for whatever reason either don't have their changing rooms open or don't have them at all. Besides, it's much easier to try something on at home the way I'd normally wear it than quickly putting it on in a store.

It's also not like returned clothes are of no value. I've seen plenty of stores put returns right back on the racks as if they're new.

The OP almost certainly did not put scare quotes around "customer" to describe trying on clothes at home in edge cases where it's impossible or burdensome to try them on in store.

(There's also the common case of regular customers who are busy and want to try lots of clothes at the same time, and the clerk makes a sales quote so they can bring up whatever didn't work for them later.)

OP is almost certainly talking about "customers" who buy a piece of clothing specifically to wear to a particular event out in the elements (party/dinner/camping/etc.), then try to return that piece for full credit after the elements have visibly changed the wear/fit/look/smell/elasticity of said clothing.

You have nothing to explain if a shop lets you purchase clothing to try at home in controlled clean conditions and then return it if you feel it doesn't work for you.

If you also bring back non-defective clothing that is no longer in a condition to be sold for full price, you are a meanie.

Actually I'd go one further-- even if it's pristine condition, someone who buys the thing knowing full well they will return it later is also a meanie because of the opportunity cost to the retailer.

Yes, I have friends who do this a lot and I just find it so unethical. The stores don't exist to lend you clothes, like they're your older sister's closet. There are costs associated with rent, labor, etc.

That's fair. I've talked to some people working in retail who mentioned that some people abused the policy mercilessly.

No doubt, and thats why some places just put restocking fees around certain types of clothing (formalwear/around school events/ etc)

What do you think the scam they're pulling off is? My mother used to do this. She'd buy a bunch of clothes during the day while I was at school and then return the ones I didn't like. Was she not a real customer?

But you didn't wear the ones you didn't like, presumably. The scam is where you buy clothes for a special occasion, wear them, and then return them.

The scam described is called "wardrobing"


>Wardrobing is a form of return fraud. It is the practice of purchasing an item, using it, and then returning it to the store for a refund.[1][2] It is most often done with expensive clothing - hence the name - but the practice is also common with tools, electronics, and even computers. To prevent this practice, some stores make certain items, such as wedding dresses or Christmas decorations unreturnable. Some observers classify wardrobing as a form of shoplifting.

Presumably your mom didn't make you wear the unwanted clothes for a few days before she returned them.

I'm talking about the people who buy the clothes, wear them, and return them.

One problem, however, is that it is quite hard to reliably separate the "bought, brought home, tried on, did not fit (or other reason) like I thought, returned" actors from the "bought for 'event', wore to 'event' to impress, returned when 'event' was over" actors.

Both exhibit a similar pattern from the retailers viewpoint: purchase, a few days delay, return.

Wow that’s really entitled behavior. When you buy something, the intention is for you to own that item. It isn’t a trial period meant to facilitate an in-home shopping experience. It’s tacky to make it a habit of regularly returning things where the reason for the return could have been prevented.

It costs a lot of money to process returns for a retailer, and that cost is often written down. It’s meant to be an exception during the sales process (not a normal condition) and offered as a curtosey, not a defacto right.

> When you buy something, the intention is for you to own that item. It isn’t a trial period meant to facilitate an in-home shopping experience. It’s tacky to make it a habit of regularly returning things where the reason for the return could have been prevented.

I think your knowledge may be dated here. Most higher-end stores I've been to in the past 5 years absolutely encourage that behavior strongly with sales reps suggesting you do so. They love it when my girlfriend is out shopping and brings back a dozen shirt options for me to try on, and then immediately returns 9 of them (heck, some stores even offer free shipping on the items you decide against). The store just made a sale on 3 items they otherwise would not have.

They of course don't want folks actually wearing those things out for a "trial" period, but they know they must compete with on-line options that operate in this exact manner.

Trader Joe's does this with food. In my experience, they will take anything back, any time, with no receipt. (Alcohol being the one exception, although they did take a return of an unopened box wine that was leaking.)

A few times I've been in the store and overheard a conversation a customer had with a crew member who encouraged them to bring something back if they didn't like it.

I imagine this works out well for them: when you go back, you will probably find something else to buy!

> Wow that’s really entitled behavior. When you buy something, the intention is for you to own that item. It isn’t a trial period meant to facilitate an in-home shopping experience. It’s tacky to make it a habit of regularly returning things where the reason for the return could have been prevented.

Actually, quite a few of clothing retailers advertise with that.

Most famously Zalando ran constant TV ads everywhere here for a few months promoting the "buy, if you don't like it, send it back".

Yes, "100% Satisfaction Guaranteed" is a common marketing theme, and explicitly encourages the behavior parent commenter calls "not a defacto right"

> It’s meant to be an exception during the sales process (not a normal condition) and offered as a courtesy, not a defacto right.

It is a defacto right in many situations in many countries. In the UK for example, if a good is sold sight unseen via "distance selling" (mail/phone/online etc), sale of goods legislation requires you to provide a refund for any reason whatsoever if the item is returned within 14 days.

It depends on the retailer. Nordstrom's encourages this kind of behavior -- salespeople there make sales by telling the customer they can return stuff if they buy it and find out they don't like it. On the other hand, L.L. Bean has recently added restrictions to their return policy because it was being abused.

While I know that there is abuse of the return option, and probably quite a lot, an immediate return is more likely to be because the item has simply been checked for fit and finish. Someone planning to wear something for a particular event before returning it is likely to have it delivered a few days in advance.

I will not order items like footwear for mail delivery if I cannot return items that do not fit, and it is up to the retailer whether they want to trade with me on that basis.

In addition to all of the previous answers, which are all great, in the case of clothing they are often charging $50-100+ for what amounts to $5 in material and labor.

Running a business on the assumption that customers will share your morals and ethics is a recipe for failure

Tell it to my wife...

We cannot accept your return, Mr. Costanza; this book has been flagged.

This only stops gormless shoppers from making reasonable returns. Everyone else will do a chargeback for credit purchases, or file a complaint in small claims for cash purchases. The moxious will call their credit card company right at the returns desk and ask if they need a photograph of the posted return policy.

Well if you do and you constantly do chargebacks then you will get hit with fraud from your credit card company.

What does it mean for a CC company to 'hit' someone 'with fraud'?

They hit you with 'Chargeback fraud'. They can cancel your card, put it on your credit history redcord and can choose to press charges.

Has this actually happened to you or any of your acquaintances?

The retail-dispute resolution clauses of most credit agreements are very biased towards the consumer. If you can document that you made at least one good-faith effort at resolving the issue yourself before requesting that the credit issuer handle it for you, then the retailer has to overcome the presumption that the customer is always right in the arbitration.

As it's all about the money and private agreements, it is always possible that someone who has more of it than you could use it to buy a more favorable outcome. But it is also very unlikely that anyone would ever see a criminal indictment over credit fraud before the damages exceed thousands of dollars. No credit company wants to lose customers because they got a reputation for grassing on their customers, but they would want to discourage their petty frauds--they know they have some, with statistical certainty--from growing worse by occasionally prosecuting the worst of the grand frauds.

If HSBC can knowingly launder drug money, and Wells Fargo can knowingly open fake accounts, a credit bank can knowingly screw the retailer when one of their credit customers does a bogus chargeback just because the cashier was rude at the checkout.

I won't say bogus chargebacks are not a problem, but there is a threshold below which it does not negatively affect the revenue of the bank, so no one there will be paid to care about it. A computer program might evaluate it. It might get randomly selected for human auditing. And most people are mostly honest, so the fraud rate would still be low, even if no one policed it more than a token amount. The credit banks's mission isn't to catch the frauds; it's to make money. So they catch just the right amount of frauds in order to make the most money.

> The moxious will call their credit card company right at the returns desk and ask if they need a photograph of the posted return policy.

Thank you! That's an excellent suggestion!

Most return policies these days has provisions that say they reserve the right to refuse returns. Also it's a huge hassle to go through a small claim court or call credit card companies (even credit card companies flags you if you make repeated calls for chargebacks.)

Those processes are also burdensome to the retailer. That's the whole point of accepting returns in the first place, because it reduces hassle for everyone. If you stop accepting returns, you're back to the old way of doing things, plus your old customer is also blasting your intransigence over social media and driving new customers away.

If I can't return an item, I will be much more cautious about buying in the first place. As I am already very cheap, that usually means the time horizon for me to make a buying decision now spans well beyond the time I am spending in the store. Which means I will be elsewhere when thinking about a purchase. Which means that when I finally do decide to buy, I then have to decide from where.

Even if I never return an item, reducing the consequences of me making a wrong choice when buying something makes me more likely to actually spend my money. This means liberal return policies, price-match guarantees, in-stock guarantees for sale items, etc.

I don't know how much they actually lose to returns fraud, but I do know how much they never gain because I don't even bother to shop there any more.

>If you stop accepting returns

They are trying to stop people who abuse the policies, not returns altogether. The article never says the retailers are making a move to stop returns from everyone. That kinda defeats the point you are trying to make.

>If I can't return an item, I will be much more cautious about buying in the first place.

Sounds like its working then. The point is the customers that feel they don't need to research an item they are purchasing cause they can 'just return it' are the ones they want to be more cautious about buying in the first place cause you are costing them more money.

Really sounds like you are arguing against a scenario that isn't taking place. You are actually bringing up points that made them decide to do this. They can deter constant returners from using returns as a 'try any item you like and return it' and also deter return frauds.

The main point of accepting returns is to reduce the cognitive overhead and friction of a potential customer's purchasing decision and make them more likely to spend money with you right now. If a retailer doesn't accept returns then potential customers are more likely to shop around for price or selection and become less likely to buy from you at all, and if they do buy from you, it will likely be later, thus costing them some cash flow. Accepting returns makes people buy more stuff and buy it earlier than they would otherwise. And they are more likely to buy it from you specifically.

The primary problem in retail generally isn't revenue or margin, it is cash flow. Creating additional customers or even encouraging customers to purchase sooner than they otherwise would have is a huge win.

The have introduced the possibility that a false positive will prevent a non-abusing customer from processing a return.

"Dozens of shoppers have complained on Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and other online forums that they were prevented from making returns despite following the store’s policy."

According to the article, the scenario is taking place, in an arbitrary and capricious fashion, such that BB is making fraudulent claims about its return policy. When shoppers buy there, they expect the policy will be honored; without that expectation, the sale might not have taken place.

Indeed, if you reverse the conditional, you are likely to have a very high percentage of the people who end up returning items attributing a large fraction of their buying decision to the return policy.

Yes their implementation seems to be overly aggressive.

To me if you are saving more money by having this than not, why make it so aggressive? Better to catch the few then catch customers that aren't taking advantage of it and not catch every abuser.

Then you ban the person. And your credit card will drop you too if you keep doing charge backs.

Aren't there consumer protection laws against this sort of thing?

Update: I guess it varies state by state http://consumer.findlaw.com/consumer-transactions/customer-r...

Minnesota, where I (and Best Buy Headquarters) are located requires:

"A seller must clearly and conspicuously display written notice of its policy in boldface type of a minimum size of 14 points. If a seller fails this requirement, cash refunds are required of goods that are acceptable for return."

Also, couldn't fraudsters circumvent this entirely by paying in cash?

I'm guessing it's legal because they warn you before denying it (ie. they allow you to return it this time, but warn you that you won't be able to return next time)


> Also, couldn't fraudsters circumvent this entirely by paying in cash?

Are they doing it off credit cards, or scanning your ID when you present the return and running that?

To me it seems very similar to credit reporting agencies, so I would imagine much of it falls under the same buckets, legal or otherwise.

From the infographic: "returning an item just when a store closes"

Can anyone explain why that specific behavior is a red flag?

When I was in the point-of-sale software industry a decade ago, this was one of the rules of the fraud-detection system our software offered.

Employees in cahoots often "returned" unsold merchandise shortly before, or immediately after, store closing. Mainly due to legitimate customers not being present.

There were a surprising number of rules that we had developed over time, usually in response to discovery of all the various schemes that people came up with.

Buying-then-returning-within-X-minutes was another.

Minimizes the time employees are willing to spend evaluating the return.

Also maximizes the time to discovery if there are real issues

"I really don't want to get home 30 minutes late because I was arguing with an irate customer if I reject this return."

Is anyone else finding a lot of the stuff they buy has minor wear and tear ie probably was a return at some point?

The brand “new” pressure washer I bought was covered with scuff marks.

I stopped buying things like motherboards, RAM and so forth from Frys quite some time ago. Just too much stuff was returns, and not marked so.

(I once bought a desktop computer from them. It was, unsurprisingly, busted -- it wouldn't boot, and the OS installs I tried all failed. I had to threaten to reverse charges on my credit card when they refused to take it back; their argument was it was broken and they were unable to put it back on the shelf and sell it to another customer!)

In old days at Frys (around 2001), Fry's used to check the returned products (mother boards, memory, hard drives, etc) and check the serial number of mother board/memory/hard drive against the serial number on the package. They also used to do quick retest of returned motherboards, put them back in the package, shrink wrap it, then place them back on shelves. People started complaining about this, as customers have no way of knowing whether a package is new or not.

Around 2007, Fry's started putting lables on returned packages. This way, one can know whether something is returned or not. Some customers used to replace things by keeping the same new package.

  shrink wrap it, then place them back on shelves
I've never heard of this at Fry's; in CA, it would be illegal. And I've been shopping there since the original site on Oakmead. (The current Sunnyvale store is the 3rd she for the flagship.)

If you lack a receipt but bought with a card, knowing the card used and the store bought at is enough for them to look it up.

My recent experiences (past 2 years) in Fry's are the opposite - the returned stuff is clearly marked and 10% off. Given the sheer quantity of stuff on the shelves marked this way I have to assume they are probably being honest about it most of the time.

I've had a "new" heat sink come with dried thermal paste on it.

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