I returned an item to a local store recently and came upon an interesting challenge. The store was happy to put the refund on a gift card for me. However, personnel also informed me that since this was the second thing I had returned in the last three months that if I had one more return, I would be banned from returning merchandise to the store for a 90-day period. Where did this come from?
Though many retailers make it easier to return by tracking sales by customer, there is a reason for their care. They are fighting return fraud. Last year, according to the National Retail Federation, retailers lost almost $3.5 billion in return fraud.
Return fraud is growing and can occur in a variety of ways. Sometimes people simply steal items from the store only to return them for cash, cheaper price tags are changed for more expensive ones and items purchased at one store are returned to another store. However, probably the most common return abuse is when someone purchases something never intending to keep it. This may be the dress that is worn for an occasion or a television used for the Super Bowl, then returned. In any case, the returned item cannot be sold for full price, causing the retailer to put the item on clearance.
No big deal, right? Well, it is a big deal. Not only does this practice eat into the merchants’ profits, but often times the retailer also raises prices to recover the losses caused by fraudulent returns.
Fraudulent returns have become such a problem that 25 percent of retailers have vowed to crack down on returns this holiday season. The most common change has been the institution of a “no receipt, no return” policy.
It’s inevitable that most of us may have something to return this year. To stay clear of return problems, take some simple precautions.
Check store policies on returns. Don’t rely on what the store clerk tells you. Ask for the written policy that is posted in the store.
If shopping online, be sure to check the return policies and who pays for what. Shipping for returns could be the responsibility of the store or of the buyer. Find out before purchasing. In addition, don’t assume that the policies are the same in an online venue as in the brick-and-mortar store of the same name. Ask questions before purchasing.
Get a gift receipt. Less than half of us (49 percent) get a gift receipt. This will allow for returns, but won’t list what you paid for the item.
Keep all receipts. Receipts may get you your money back, but no receipt may only allow you to get a gift card for future purchases. If the item you are returning has been on sale within recent weeks, you may only be credited with the “on sale” price.
Keep all packaging, instruction manuals, rebate materials, directions and tags. Many retailers won’t accept a return unless the item is in its original package. Sometimes they charge a “restocking” fee that ranges from 5 to 25 percent. This is common for electronic gadgets, but many other items are now being charged a restocking fee.
As we enter the gift-buying season, be aware of return policies and enjoy your shopping.
Roxie Rodgers Dinstel is associate director of Cooperative Extension Service, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Questions or column requests can be e-mailed to her at email@example.com or by calling 907-474-7201.