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Think twice before returning items to these 5 stores

These five stores are tracking your every return. Bring back one too many items, and it could mean no more buying for you.

By MSN Money Partner Feb 5, 2014 3:41PM

This post comes from Maryalene LaPonsie at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyHow 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.

Customer and sales assistant haggling © Image Source, Getty Images1. 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"

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

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?

More on Money Talks News:

Feb 5, 2014 5:18PM
Good idea to check refunds as I saw many fraudulent practices by the customer. I had an ironclad policy of no returns on lawn mowers, weed trimmers and chainsaws.  After a bad storm people would want to buy a chainsaw and return it after they cut their trees. I would tell them upfront that there was no returns on any power equipment and got told "I'll take my business elsewhere" . My reply was "please do!"  I have heard of people trying to return small pieces of scrap lumber to the retailer and many other stories. The customer is not always right or honest.
Feb 5, 2014 4:43PM
The problem I see with the Lowe's & Home Depot policy is if you are doing a lot of home repairs I tend to buy extra screws, wood, etc so I don't have to stop in the middle of a project to get more supplies.  As long as it is not opened & you have a receipt I don't think there should be an issue.
Feb 5, 2014 4:27PM
Those are GOOD policies; they deter the shoplifters from stealing and then returning items.  I don't mind giving my ID for a valid return, it's saving consumers money in the long run.
Feb 5, 2014 9:11PM
Funny story, at Sears I bought a hot glue gun, got it home and it had a 'dead short' and blew the house fuse. So I took it back and explained to the lady  the problem.  She said we will see about that.  I told her I would not advise that, She did it anyway and blew the fuse for  most the lights in the tool department out as well as her register.   She should have LISTENED to her customer.
Feb 5, 2014 6:33PM
I would venture a guess with Saks 5th that women "buy" their very expensive clothes for a special event and then return them after the event is over.
Feb 5, 2014 6:45PM

Your article is misleading and inaccurate MSN. 

#1- Opened video games, and movies, due to federal law cannot be returned, only exchanged or sold as used.  That is not just an amazon thing.

#2- The Best Buy tracking system for returns was put in place for the sole purpose of preventing shrink (theft and fraud).  When I worked there I had 2 people put on this list.  1st one got a manager to discount everything to cost because of the amount of services he was buying.  After he got all the items he returned all the services.  After checking his history, we found he had done this at some other stores and then turned around and sold the stuff as new on.  He was later arrested at another store for fraud.  The second one was returning items on a daily basis.  When we inspected the boxes further they had been rewrapped with either rocks or a blank disc in them. He was arrested the next day. Again many stores do this. It is smart policy to protect themselves. 

MSN you may want to rethink your article.  A lot of these companies do go after people for slander or false statements like you just made.

Feb 5, 2014 4:47PM
Feb 5, 2014 5:09PM
If people wouldn't act like turds, these policies would not be necessary.  It may be urban legend, but I heard of one widow who bought a suit for her late husband, laid him out in it in an open casket, then returned the suit after the casket was closed for the last time.  It reeked of formaldehyde.
Feb 5, 2014 5:56PM
I've never had a problem with Lowes or Home Depot.  if you use your store credit care, you don;t even need a receipt, they track the purchase on their system.  As for the other stores, 30 days, 15 days?  What's the problem.  One should be able to make a reasonable determination if they are going to keep or return the product within that time period.  I don;t see anything unfair about any of this.
Feb 5, 2014 6:36PM
It only took once of Best Buy screwing me on a return--that was 14 years ago. Only returned 1 item about about 10 I had bought that year. I was an "out of the box" item that someone else had returned. BB guaranteed it was in working order. Got it home, worked 1 hour and the next day I tried to return it. They refused and their excuse was it was "out of the box". I told them I bought it that way and they still refused. I have never bought anything there again and I will never, ever again. 
Feb 5, 2014 7:26PM
Defective items are one thing.  Returns are a change of mind.  That's not a retailers fault.  I'm a business owner.  I charge a restocking fee.  I give 7 days.  I don't have to, but I do.  Small companies depend on every sale.  As for defects though here are some things to keep in mind: many retailers can't return it to their distributor if there is a defect.  Frequently, it's the retailers tough luck.  People will do ANYTHING to make something defective.  A small rip.  Bad coloring in clothes that were cause by bleach but of course it just discolored on its own.  Electronics that are taken apart and altered and then put back together.  Keep all that in mind.  As for software/movies/whatever, I have a no return policy on software.  Once it's opened the license is yours.  Replacement media can be gotten from the manufacturer.  Many times the software is downloadable now.  Music gets copied.  Movies gets copied.  If you want to borrow movies, go rent it.  Don't buy it, copy it, then bitch that you can't return it.
Feb 5, 2014 4:16PM
Costco has the absolute best return policy.
Feb 5, 2014 5:58PM

Trash will return anything they can it does not matter if it is lingerie on FEB 15th at the local Walmart.

Feb 5, 2014 7:31PM

It's about time retailers put their collective foot down on ''return junkies'' and all the ''use it once'' scammers out there. Especially the 'WEAR it once'ers which is where Victoria's Secret is aiming their policy.


Then there's the auto parts business with all the d.i.y. and shade tree GUESSers.

 Plus... the ''buy genuine Ford / GM / Dodge to match up at the el-cheapo place who doesn't have clue , then return the  genuine.

Yes, we've even had scammers clean the used part and attempt to return as unused or put the cheapo aftermarket part in the genuine box for a return !

Feb 5, 2014 7:00PM
Well, I don't know many is too many, but when we've done home improvement projects, many times we've had to swap out things at Lowe's, having gotten home with the wrong fitting, size, whatever, and there's never been the first problem. We love Lowe's.
Feb 5, 2014 5:03PM
best buy....don't even try to return anything even faulty products
Feb 5, 2014 4:42PM
With so many online purchases these days I'd make sure I do alot of research, and know as closely as possible, exactly what it is I'm buying, to minimize returns. 
Feb 5, 2014 4:50PM

Yea not all return policies are good. Best Buy has one of the worst return polices along with Amazon for electronics. Amazon's policy says, Only DOA laptops may be returned making them the worst is computer returns. Best Buy's is 14 days only unless Elite of Elite Plus, but you have to spend a lot of there to achieve that status. 

Software is a bad item for return in almost every state that I know of along with movies and music, in fact I don't know of any retailer that will take this kind of item back. The only software returns I've had any luck with are the ones with a 30 day satisfaction guarantee from the software company itself.

Overall I dislike returning something, but I will if it's defective, the wrong size, and etc. I d believe all return policies should be clearly posted and on the receipt, so read them and if they aren't don't buy for that retailer.

Feb 5, 2014 7:47PM
I usually never return, just exchange.  My husband ordered me panties from Victoria's Secret online when they were having one of their like 7 for $26 dollar sales on cotton ones.  He ordered medium and I needed large.  I obviously did not return the ones I tried on, but I had no problem exchanging the rest for a larger size (at least my husband was smart and ordered smaller rather than bigger lol).

I had a hard time returning a toaster oven I got as a gift from my mother for Christmas one year at Target.  The handle fell off the second time I used it and I could not re-attach it.  I went to return it and they said I could only exchange it for the same one.  I told them that I was not going to be stupid and exchange it for another one that was going to fall apart.  They told me I could only use my credit in the kitchen appliance section.  I looked and looked, but there was nothing I needed there for $40 bucks and that my mother would want me to have a gift she wanted me to have.  Had to call my mother and she had to give her credit card info to prove the purchase and after an hour they finally gave me the cash for it.  Learned then to always get gift receipts, and even then sometimes they will only give you gift cards for it.
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