The Tricks Shoppers Pull

Reporters at the Los Angeles Times look at various tricks shoppers pull at department stores, and how retailers are addressing them:

At times, the activity amounts to flat-out fraud. Sham returns involving stolen merchandise, items bought with fake money and doctored e-receipts cost the industry $8.8 billion last year, affecting nearly 95% of retailers, according to the National Retail Federation.

But there’s also a mushrooming undergrowth of not-quite scams and ethically hazy work-arounds — tricks that regular customers pull to save some money. Spending a minimum of $50 to get a freebie and then returning everything but the gift. Scouring aggregator websites for online coupon codes intended only for a retailer’s email subscribers. When buying discounted items that are final sale, asking for a gift receipt just in case — that way, the product can be exchanged later for store credit.

“To me, it’s stealing and it’s unethical, but it’s a gray area,” Pruitt said. “I hate thinking that people next to me in line have agendas, but I’m sure they do.”

Some stores like Sears and Target have adjusted their return policies for specific items, for example 90 days for clothing returns but only 30 for appliances. Other stores have relaxed their return policies—Best Buy has eliminated some of its restocking fees, for example, while other stores consider “wardrobing”—when a shopper buys an article of clothing, wears it, and then returns it later—simply a cost of doing business. Some shoppers the reporters interviewed said that if stores are going to let certain things slide, they’re going to take advantage of the loopholes.

“I think it’s perfectly, perfectly fine,” Weiskel said. “Most corporations, they have no problems taking advantage of consumers or workers for profit, so whenever a consumer can get a little more bang for their buck, I’m 100% for that.”

Photo: Nicholas Eckhart



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