Retailers Get Stingy About Returns

Shoppers should expect a shorter grace period and be ready to flash an ID.

Florida Miami Walmart service desk customers employees
By Kaitlin Pitsker

As you're double-checking your holiday shopping list, tack on a reminder to read each store's return policy before making your purchase. Some retailers are feeling a little less generous when it comes to returns. That even includes REI, an outdoor gear and sporting goods retailer long known for its no-time-limit and no-questions-asked return policy.

The store recently trimmed its return window to one year, unless the merchandise is defective. To deter "wardrobing" -- the practice of buying, using and then returning a product (usually clothing) for a refund -- Bloomingdale's recently began tagging some of its apparel with conspicuous plastic tags. If a tag is removed, shoppers can't return the item.

Stingier policies are intended to combat return fraud. Last year, fraudulent returns cost retailers $8.9 billion, according to the National Retail Federation, $2.9 billion of which occurred during the holiday season. Reports of wardrobing increased 40 percent from 2009 to 2012, says the NRF.

Customers can expect tougher return policies to spread. "As retailers see competitors or stores with some of the most lenient policies tighten up, it's going to signal to them that they can do the same," says Phoenix retail consultant Jeff Green. "We're going to see a shift toward a shorter, 30-day return policy in 2014." Customers can also expect added scrutiny when taking back merchandise without a receipt.

Retailers want to identify the bad actors. To do so, some companies are gathering data on customers who return merchandise, watching for suspicious patterns and warning or denying repeat offenders. Clerks may ask for state-issued identification, such as a driver's license, before you can make a return.
Nearly 10 percent of retailers require ID for returns made with a receipt, and 73 percent require ID for returns made without a receipt. Some scan the ID into their own system; others send the info to a third party.

If you exceed a retailer's limit for the number of returns within a given time frame or for the value of returned products, you could be denied more returns for a period of time (typically 90 days). If you are given a warning or denied a return, the Retail Equation, a company that collects return information for 27,000 merchants in North America, will provide you with the information in its return-activity report over the phone. To request your report, visit

Despite the general trend toward Grinchier return policies, some retailers are giving shoppers a break during the holidays or when shopping online. Last year, 10 percent of retailers relaxed their return policies for the holidays, and similar promotions are expected this year. Lenient online return policies and acceptance of returns in stores for items bought online will likely continue. Look for free shipping for both purchases and returns, which Neiman Marcus debuted in October.

As policies shift, the key to hassle-free returns will be staying organized. The ReturnGuru app, free for iPhone and Android, lets you snap pictures of your receipts, then saves them and reminds you as the deadline approaches to make returns. The new rules may take some getting used to. But if you expect great deals, that's part of the trade-off.

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anytime you can stop fraud you have done something good for the general public

November 08 2013 at 6:22 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Hello Bob

From my retail experience almost all returns result in a dead loss to the retailer. Most of the time the returned goods cannot be resold to cover the manufacturing cost let alone make any kind of gross profit and totally forget net profit. The return policy in the US is far too lenient. If you don't know EXACTLY what someone wants, then give them a gift card. We will all be happier.

November 08 2013 at 5:56 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

congratulations to Bloomingdale's for taking a pro-active, aggressive step with the conspicuous plastic tags. the "wardrobers" are one of the several factors contributing to rising prices on clothing.

November 07 2013 at 9:16 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Steve Schiffman

Competition will revert that trend. Sure, you will initially see the "herd" mentality take hold; then a smart merchandiser will start to promote a more "liberal" retrun policy - to gain a competitive advantage. Then of course, the "herd" mentaity will result in the stores reversing their "stingy" return policy to what it was previously.

Lesson learned? The consumer will benefit in the end due to the power of the purse (and feet..or for some, "the click").

November 07 2013 at 9:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm not buying unless I can return it for whatever reason I wish. You had no problem selling it to me...but here I come to return and you want ID,a sworn affidavit and blood sample (jk) I will buy elsewhere or give cash.

November 07 2013 at 7:24 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
4 replies to Traci's comment

A friend of mine is a manager at Walmart.......She said,,that Jan 1,2014,,,
Walmart will bump pay to $12.00 an hour to start...
Has anyone heard this yet.???

November 07 2013 at 6:46 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to pdbliz's comment

Isn\'t that ironic. GE just hired a bunch of folks in Ohio to make CFL bulbs at $15.00 per hour. Isn\'t that what the gov\'t wants for a minimum wage? Looks like $30K per year will be the new \"middle income\" norm. I was making TWICE that much in retailing back in the 80\'s. Welcome to Obamaworld where EVRYONE will make their \"Fair Share\". OH! GOODY!

November 07 2013 at 7:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to packard54's comment
Linda Carter

@ Packard54 - I think comments like yours are mindless and totally unfair - where was the ire of people like you during the ten years Bush & Co. were busy wrecking the economy with unregulated greed, outsourcing U.S. jobs and foreclosing on millions of middle Americans? Seems so many of you are vocal detractors for an administration charged with repairing what was destroyed but can never be fixed. I suppose it's much easier to cut off your nose to spite your face than be responsible for the choice made to fill the White House with the party KNOWN to rob from the poor and give to the rich.

Hot air only adds to global warming.

November 08 2013 at 5:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down


November 07 2013 at 5:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Willie Thomas

That means make sure before you buy someone a christmas gift. But that uncertainly IMO will mean much sales (at least I would hope) from people only making certain purchases than loses from fraudulant returns. I used to work in retail. But I read everything (in terms of reports that dealt with profitability) I just don\'t believe that fraud is costing them more than what they will cost themselves in lower sales.

November 07 2013 at 4:43 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Robert L.

Just Sayin'...retailers seem to being telling us, or at least me, to be sure before making a purchase. That means making especailly sure gifts I would take on chance of purchasing should not be purchased in a rush because there is a brand-new "keep-the-money" (no matter what) attitude. It may be a signifiant shop-consideration feature holiday shoppers.

How close to that is to the current pardigm of internet sellers?

November 07 2013 at 4:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Willie Thomas

I have no problem with them cracking down on retail fraud. But their business model builds in for the amount of fraud they expect and thus they have built in that cost already to the consumer. Unfortunately customer service will be affected. So in the end it\'s either a case of excessive fraud blowing their profitability or greedy retailers wanting more profit. I would highly suspect it\'s a case of both. I doubt fraud makes up that much of a loss for them. I don\'t mind what Bloomingdale did because their actions only adversely affect those cheating. But be warned consumers always fight back.against these measures.

November 07 2013 at 4:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply