Think Twice Before Returning Items to These 5 Stores

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How many times have you skipped the dressing room, figuring you can always return what doesn’t fit? You might want to rethink that shopping strategy at some stores.

We’ve told you about the stores with the best return policies, and now it’s time to unveil the lemons. Here are five stores that may go so far as to ban you for making too many returns.

1. Amazon

For most items sold by Amazon, the online retailer gives you 30 days to make a return. Miss that window, and your refund could be docked by 20 percent of the purchase price. Take the plastic wrap off DVDs, CDs and games, and your refund drops 50 percent. And don’t even think about returning opened software. You won’t get anything for that.

All that may be within the realm of the reasonable, compared with other store return policies. What may be more concerning for shoppers is the number of people who say they’ve been banned from Amazon for what the store deems to be excessive returns. The store doesn’t say anything about banning customers in its posted policy, but it apparently closes your account when you hit a certain percentage of returns.

2. Best Buy

The electronics giant made it onto Consumer Reports’ “Naughty List” for the 2013 holiday shopping season because of its return policy. The store requires a valid ID to make a return or exchange and then tracks that information.

The company warns in its return policy: “Based on return/exchange patterns, some customers will be warned that subsequent returns and exchanges will not be eligible for returns or exchanges for 90 days.”

Beyond that, Best Buy gives customers a tiny window to make returns – only 15 days for customers who aren’t My Best Buy Elite or Elite Plus members.

3. Saks Fifth Avenue

Saks Fifth Avenue has also decided to go with a 30-day window for returns. If you try to make a late return, Saks will only credit you based on the current selling price regardless of how much your receipt says you paid.

And like Best Buy, the company includes this little gem in its return policy: “To ensure a positive shopping experience for all our customers, if we identify through electronic analysis an unreasonable return pattern, we may restrict or refuse future transactions from such customers at Saks Fifth Avenue or at saks.com.”

4. Lowe’s

At least Best Buy and Saks get props for being open and honest. Lowe’s doesn’t come right out and say it will ban customers for too many returns, but you can read between the lines in its return policy.

Lowe’s stores use refund and check verification systems. All returns are subject to system approvals.

In fairness to Lowe’s, news reports indicate competitor Home Depot uses the same system, although it’s not stated in its posted return policy.

5. Victoria’s Secret

Finally, we come to Victoria’s Secret. The retailer will take returns within 90 days and issue a full refund. Not bad. Come in after 90 days and you can expect to get a merchandise credit. Still not bad, but either way, expect to pull out your driver’s license. Here’s what its return policy says.

In select stores, a government-issued ID is required for all returns and exchanges. Victoria’s Secret will electronically scan this ID for the sole purpose of preventing return abuse. Victoria’s Secret does not sell the information obtained through this process.

The store doesn’t say when customers will be prevented from making future returns, but at least one employee says you get up to seven returns in a three-month period before getting cut off.

The Retail Equation connection

These five stores may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to tracking customers with the intent of limiting serial returners. The Retail Equation says 11 of the top 50 retailers in the U.S. use its services to track customer return data.

Of course, The Retail Equation doesn’t give out client names, but if your driver’s license has ever been swiped when you made a return, there’s a good chance your data was going through the company’s Verify Return Authorization system. Depending on the arrangement with that particular retailer, The Retail Equation may be tracking any of the following information.

  • Purchase history.
  • Frequency of returns.
  • Dollar amount of returns.
  • Whether a receipt is used for a return.

However, the company says it doesn’t share information between stores. That means, for example, Best Buy won’t know about your returns to Lowe’s and vice versa.

If you want to see exactly what The Retail Equation has on file for you, consumers are welcome to request a copy of their Return Activity Report. You can send your request via email or snail mail.

The Retail Equation
P.O. Box 51373
Irvine, CA 92619-1373
ReturnActivityReport@TheRetailEquation.com

Since the company tracks many people by their driver’s license number, you’ll need to provide that information. However, as with any sensitive data, you don’t want to send that number via email. Instead, send your phone number so a company representative can call you for it.

The bottom line for shoppers is to not take returns for granted. While many businesses offer them as a part of good customer service, there is no legal requirement for a retailer to take back that maroon sweater because you decide chartreuse looks better on you.

As with many things in life, it only takes a few bad apples to ruin a good thing. As long as some people continue to take advantage of the system, you can probably expect to see even more stores tightening their policies in the future.

Have you ever had a return rejected? Tell us about it in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

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Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • Medicine-is-My-Game

    That’s why I support stores like LL Bean – satisfaction guaranteed, returns accepted any time for any reason, plus free shipping. I know someone who wore-out a pair of their boots after 30 years of use, and she returned them to the store and they replaced them. I was horrified that she ripped-off the store like that, IMHO.

    • mero818

      Yeah, that is not really how LL Beans policy is supposed to be used. Its not a return anything, its a Satisfaction guarantee. So people that have used items for 30 years were obviously satisfied. They are just abusing a good store.

  • Medicine-is-My-Game

    I’ve also had multiple friends tell me that Target and QVC both track returns, and they’ve been banned, etc. And these are just regular shoppers, they weren’t doing anything wrong.

    • RoCozz

      Target will return ANYTHING for 90 days provided you have your receipt or credit card. 120 days if you use your red card. if you do not have any purchase documents then you may return, without a receipt, up to a value of $80 ANNUALLY with your drivers licence (or passport or military ID). You will get the lowest selling price within the past 90 days. your friends may have reached their limit.

      • Medicine-is-My-Game

        They told me that Target monitored the number of their returns, and at least one was told she had too many and there were consequences for that. One of them asked a cashier when they were paying about the policy and they confirmed it. I’m sorry I can’t remember the ramifications right now, but illness prevents me from doing that. I also remember reading about it on at least two forums. I don’t shop at Target, and don’t really care, but this is what has happened to others. Regardless, “$80 ANNUALLY” is not a great policy. FTR, I don’t appreciate the caps used in your reply. I was simply trying to inform others and instead feel like I have to defend myself.

        • Jason

          I think 90 days to return an item is more than fair. I’m surprised that any store will accept a return without a receipt.

          If $80 per year of returns without a receipt is not enough, what dollar amount do you think is reasonable to return without a receipt?

          • Medicine-is-My-Game

            I don’t have any particular dollar amount in mind, probably because returns aren’t something we’ve ever had a problem with. I’m just comparing Target to Walmart (a fair equivalent, IMHO), Walmart providing us with better return service without a receipt as recently as 2013. And we’re not special customers, we don’t have a Walmart credit card, and no one there knows us. We’re just boring people. LOL

            I’m just a nurse, no one special. The bottom line is that we shop a variety of stores for our needs, don’t use any store credit cards, and have never had any issues with returns. I simply commented about others experiences with Target and QVC hoping it might help someone. I honestly never expected I’d have to defend myself. I’ve been visiting this site for years, read their email every morning, and really enjoy it. I will never make the mistake of commenting here again.

          • Jason

            I’m not sure why you are taking this so personally. No one is attacking you and you don’t need to defend yourself. We are having a discussion. :)

            I agree that Walmart has an excellent return policy. The seem to take back anything for any reason. I shop very little at Walmart but Costco has a similar policy. I routinely see people returning produce that they let spoil and Costco takes it back!

  • Michele

    Watch out for Groupon returns – read the fine print

    • Medicine-is-My-Game

      I’ve never used Groupon, do they not honor returns? I though their emails advertised free shipping and returns?

  • Jcatz4

    If it’s very obvious that someone is trying to scam a store, then NO they shouldn’t be given a refund or store credit but if I buy something and it turns out not to be right I shouldn’t be penalized if I return the item. I had to return an item to Best Buy within the past 3 months that didn’t work for me. It was an indoor TV antenna that didn’t pick up signals like I thought it would. I didn’t have any problem returning it and I didn’t even have to present my credit card that I had used to pay for it. I had my receipt and everything was processed from the information on it.

  • Julie

    I have had Lowe’s employees tell me to take both sizes of an item I was unsure of and return the wrong one later. Obviously, they are unaware of the bans.

  • Nick9075

    I have to ask this question, what if one is Bipolar aka Manic Depression disorder or misdiagnosed as having plain depression then given medication such as Prozac and tripped into this state where they are wildly spending tens of thousands of dollars on credit not worrying about the consequences then when reality hits they have to return all that crap

    • Sherrie Ludwig

      Well, then I suggest that the person return the stuff en masse to each store, because usually it is the number of returns, not the number of items that triggers the alarms. If the person comes to their senses, or stabilizes, or whatever one calls recovery in this case outside the “preferred” return window (50 days instead of 45, for example) one might try explaining, and hoping for an exception, but not demanding it. And if the tens of thousands of dollars were on seasonal merchandise, or merchandise that was installed, I do not think the store should eat the refund at full price, it certainly was not their fault. If blanket exceptions were made in this case, then everyone would claim Manic Depression.

  • ODS

    Watch out for Office Max and some of the other “office and stapler” stores. Some charge a 20$ fee for return of electronic equipment tablets, hey will charge you a 20% fee if not returned within 15-20 days. Ripoffs….

    • mero818

      No, because they know they can. Would a $20 fee really prevent you from buying a computer? Its there to protect themselves form people with buyers remorse.

  • ODS

    That’s 20 per cent….

  • Rick Chumsae

    Here’s a twist: “Customers screwing other customers, aided by easy return policies.” We had some new marble tile installed in our bathrooms. Our installer said the tiled should be sealed, and best to do it with a particular brand of 3M sealer (rated for 20 years use).

    I bought a half gallon for $50, so fairly expensive product, got home and found the seal missing. Pretty sure someone had bought this, used some of it then topped it off with water and returned to the store. Assuming it was diluted I returned the bottle to the store and was issued a refund. I went to the aisle to pick up a new bottle and opened the lid… all 3 of the remaining products on the shelf had the seals removed!

    I drove to another home center store and the first one I pulled from the shelf had the seal removed! Fortunately, the one remaining bottle had the seal still intact and that’s the one I bought.

    This is a real issue for the more expensive products which are easily and undetectably watered down. There is a hugh temptation among certain customers to buy-use-waterdown-and-return. Particularly on products whose longevity depends on purity and the level of purity is impossible to see during application.

    Knowing this I seems reasonable for stores to tighten up return polices and procedures where in things such as a seal are open or missing, either no refund OR, grant the refund and scrap the item since the store can no longer assure quality.

    Consumers need to be on guard when buying products that could have been altered.

    • Jcatz4

      Customer service people should be trained to look for certain things before an item can be returned. There is also the possibility that there was a manufacturing problem that was not caught and that the seals were never installed on the bottles. I realize that that is a remote possibility but it could have happened.

  • Jcatz4

    Why were you in line behind a woman who was returning something?? Makes me think you were returning something also – otherwise, why were you in the same line?? I do not think that this article supports stealing.

  • transmitterguy

    THEY WILL TAKE IT BACK OR GET IT UP THE ASS! I built a big garage and bought 8, 8 foot 2 tube high output fluorescent light fixtures. I installed them in one day with new tubes from Lowes and after 1 month one by one they started failing. Here the Mexican made ballasts were junk! So instead of taking 8 fixtures down from a 12 foot ceiling, unwiring, loading them up, taking them back and having no light in my new garage, I thought of an idea. I bought a replacement ballast and replaced one at a time taking the bad ballast back and they exchanged it for a new one. I kept doing that till they were all changed out (the replacement ballasts were made in China, much better LOL.) Lowes knew, they got a bad batch of fixtures, but did they recall them nooooo, They let people soaked with the junk not saying a thing.1700 stores, that was a bad batch of fixtures. A guy buying one fixture, installed it and having it work 2 or 3 months would probably just go buy a replacement ballast cause he couldn’t or was too lazy to look for the receipt. Thus letting Lowes off the hook for the junk the sold him. I keep my receipts in different file folders, latest date in front, then its easy to find when you find you got screwed because someone sold you junk. I write on top of the receipt what it is, the date the warranty ends and when I bought it.”If it goes bad they are getting it back!” Remember If Its made in China they are making 200-500% markup, don’t give your money away!

  • rentslave

    You need a government ID to return to merchandise,but nothing is required in order to vote.

    • mero818

      Voting is a right……

  • mero818

    I worked retail and there were certain customers that we would not accept returns from. They would pay a whole bunch of discounted items, try and sell them on ebay and what not then return what they didn’t sale. Because of this we stopped accepting returns.