BrainTrust Query: Can You Say ‘Returns Harassment?’

Discussion
Jan 11, 2013

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from ScreenPlay InterActive’s blog

The NRF reports that 62 percent of retailers require customers to provide ID, such as a driver’s license (to be recorded), in order to make returns without a receipt, even though 86 percent are legitimate returns.

Contrast that with retailers that provide "hassle-free" returns with/without receipts and you can quickly see how attitude towards customers is a defining business trait.

Ethical consumers that have lost or damaged a receipt or received a gift are often caught in the crossfire between militant stores and crooks. Those stores are punishing authentic, valuable consumers for what are in large part, their own poor transaction/security methods.

Return fraud is a big deal and a catalyst for the actions of some retail establishments. For the 2011 holiday season, the NRF estimated losses at $3.5 billion.

But whatever the motivation, some retailers have deeply overreacted and gone far afoul, steamrolling over the rights and dignity of honest patrons, as illustrated in these examples:

  • Within a few days of making a small tool purchase at Sears, I decided to return it in the unopened package, with the receipt. A verbal battle ensued because I refused to hand over my driver’s license to make the return. Nothing in their policy stated it was required.
  • At Best Buy, we purchased two $15 iPod armbands. Upon returning one that was too large (within two weeks, with the receipt), we were told by the manager that all returns require gathering driver’s license info.

Sears killed a 20+ year relationship and Best Buy (where I never attempted a return before) has driven my business elsewhere online. The Star Ledger in New Jersey detailed a similar incident occurring at a Home Depot.

This trend gets even more troubling when judgments about return fraud are outsourced to third parties like The Retail Equation or Veridocs. TRE (claiming 17,000 participating locations) states that its Return Activity Report is available to consumers it profiles, but company practices are not public, not scrutinized by an independent observer, nor is it clear how they use, share, and protect such sensitive information.

Veridocs says it was born of The Patriot Act and provides retailers with customer ID verification "through the creation of a positive or negative customer file."

Reports and files on individuals, aggregation and sharing, highly personal data collection — have retailers forgotten that they are not Big Brother? Have they lost sight of selling merchandise, not data? Do they believe toying with people’s lives and harassment is a business strategy? For many, it seems so.

The returns situation is challenging to resolve, but crass corporate decisions that neglect consumer’s privacy, trust, and brand loyalty are the absolute wrong way to go.

Is asking shoppers to provide ID such as a driver’s license for returns over-stepping boundaries? What do you think of the value of and ethics around amassing customer return statistics?

Join the Discussion!

20 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Can You Say ‘Returns Harassment?’"


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Bernice Hurst
Guest
5 years 11 days ago

Totally over the top and unacceptable.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
5 years 11 days ago

Hassle-free returns can be a casting call for thieves. Couple that with staff who probably appreciate not having to question anything and profits can be squeezed. I would agree with Ken that returning something with receipt and requiring a drivers license is odd. On an item with no receipt—totally acceptable.

Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
5 years 11 days ago

It’s probably overkill to ask for a driver’s license in order to return a purchase, but I do empathize with retailers who are trying to weed out serial returners. I have had favorable return experiences at PetSmart, Home Depot, Publix, Saks, and Staples and always have one at Costco.

When deciding whether to return something, I always try to keep in mind that it will cost the retailer to damage it out, return it to the supplier, or whatever. While retailers should make returns easier for regular customers and even irregular ones, I understand the need to identify those who are abusers, and that process can be uncomfortable for everyone.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
5 years 11 days ago

With today’s technology I am really surprised more retailers have not created solutions like Costco has. When I go and return an item at Costco, they have my entire purchase history in their computer. I don’t need to have a receipt because they have it in their system. I assume this is tied to the membership card, but why not have retailers tie purchases to a consumer’s loyalty card and forget about asking for a license (which I believe is totally wrong)? This could be a new benefit to promote to consumers. “Join our loyalty programs for free and never worry about a receipt with returns again.”

As a consumer that sounds pretty good. Costco continues to earn my business because they have earned my trust by providing me a process to buy and return hassle free. Sears and Best Buy, wake up and catch up.

David Slavick
Guest
David Slavick
5 years 11 days ago
Verifying who you are is not unreasonable. Loss Prevention (LP) policy is there for a reason. When a rewards program is in place, as is the case with Sears and many other retailers, processing the return and ensuring that rewards balance is adjusted so as not to get “gamed” is also not an unreasonable practice. Especially at retailers that have a free program and real-time recognition and reward. I understand the logic break where you have the item and the receipt, but on the back-end verification is a demand that LP places on store management and if they do not comply they get dinged for non-compliance and profit calculation which impacts their compensation. It is a vicious circle. If you present your loyalty card and/or opt for paperless receipt or pay for the item with your house credit card, returns are not as much of a hassle at most retailers. A multi-channel, flexible retailer like Sears that allows web orders to be returned to the store and a wide array of merchandise has tremendous exposure.… Read more »
Ed Dunn
Guest
5 years 11 days ago

It is my understanding there are shoplifting rings that specialize in stealing from one store chain and returning the item at another store chain. I think it is fair for EDLP chains with 20,000+ SKUs of CPG items to ask for a driver license to curb losses and discourage the shoplifting rings.

I believe retailers with large ticket items like an electronics store should use a return merchandise authorization using an identifier such as a phone number or address upon checkout.

Demanding a driver license (consumer incur annoyance) is equally as bad as offering hassle-free return (retailer incur annoyance).

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
5 years 11 days ago

I do not mind “showing” my driver’s license to prove I am who I said I was. I do strenuously object to anyone, retailers included, making a copy of it. This is where identity theft gets its start. No thanks!

Steve Montgomery
Guest
5 years 11 days ago

In a world where we are being told that guarding your personal information to prevent identity theft is critical, asking to record someone’s driver’s license to facilitate a return seems excessive. Asking to see it is one thing—perfectly understandable when someone doesn’t have a receipt—but recording it in a database is another. The company could always record the name if its true concern was weeding our serial returners or curbing theft.

Shep Hyken
Guest
5 years 11 days ago
Sometimes rules are created because of a small percentage of problem customers, penalizing the honest customer. Companies should always take that into consideration before creating a rule or policy that has direct customer impact. The return policy issue has been out there a long time. Asking for a drivers license or ID to confirm identity to add some layer of legitimacy to the process seems reasonable, until it is actually being used as data collection to track the customer’s buying and return behaviors. Perhaps return policies and requirements (for example, a drivers license) should be stated upfront and obvious so that the customer knows what will happen if they want to return the item. The customer can choose to accept the terms or do business elsewhere if they disagree. Retailers need to understand the consequences of any decision they make that affects a customer. It is the goal to eliminate any reasons that a customer would consider doing business elsewhere. There is value to tracking returns. The ethical part comes around creating a profile on… Read more »
Brian Numainville
Guest
5 years 11 days ago

Providing a positive experience for shoppers, even when returning something, should be the goal. While on one hand I can certainly understand the need for retailers to reduce fraud, if there is a receipt in hand I think asking for more identification is over the top. Some shopper research on this might be interesting!

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
5 years 11 days ago

There are two sides to this “coin.”

Fraudulent returns which cost retailers billions of dollars in product and operational cost, will end up being subsidized by consumers through higher retail prices. This perspective lends credence to retailers employing the best technology and fraud deterrence possible to limit its growth and impact.

The pervasive increase in requests for personal information from consumers and its concomitant association with fraud perpetrated upon consumers represents the other side of the coin.

I believe that as long as the public is well informed about a retailers return policy that it becomes a matter of caveat emptor.

Gordon Arnold
Guest
5 years 11 days ago
There are IT solutions in place and fully functional that allow for secure customer returns without consumer id verification. In the case of one large retailer this same IT service is eliminating warranty worries as well as spare parts identification issues. The cost for membership is free to the consumer in all of the systems in place that I am aware of. Retailers are creating consumer elective participation programs as an extension of these free IT membership programs that enhance customer services such as assisting with coupon awareness and selection, search and compare for alternative items for purchase needs and planning for future expenditures. Theft is a multimillion dollar consumer and corporate dilemma which has caused an end of businesses, jobs, personal wealth, homes and most alarming of all, life itself. The only reliable protection available is that which companies and individuals put in place themselves. The placement of protection devices, processing policies, and security measures is a practice that at present continues to be described with many derogatory terms like invasive, dangerous to the… Read more »
David Slavick
Guest
David Slavick
5 years 11 days ago

I do have one tidy little anecdote story to share that has nothing to do with DL for returns. My father in law is a Korean War vet. On occasion he likes to go to the grocery store and purchase a six pack of Miller Lite. He is 80 years of age. The clerk always asks him for his DL, won’t sell it to him unless he shows it. Drives him nuts!

Herb Sorensen
Guest
5 years 11 days ago
NO, this is NOT a bad thing, but a direction society is moving, to the benefit of ALL members of society (whether we like it or not), and is just one part of big, BIG data. That is, whether it is offensive or “wrong” will increasingly be seen, particularly by the younger generation, by asking this question: does this make my own life better? One of the easiest ways for a minor shoplifter to turn their thievery into cash is to simply go to any store with the hot merchandise, pretend to have purchased it there, and seek a refund. Personally, I am not offended when on the few occasions I have lost the receipt and return some item to Home Depot and they ask to see ID. If this helps reduce shrinkage, I’m all for it. My point here is that in the modern world, our identity needs to be digitized beyond simply showing our faces to justify movement of cash. I notice my new Amex card has a readable chip on it. And… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest
5 years 11 days ago

I wonder if it was only coincidence that the two retailers in this example were Sears and Best Buy, two of our…umm…”favorites” to talk about here?

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
5 years 10 days ago

If you don’t trust the customer, how can the store build trust with the customer?

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
5 years 10 days ago

The consumer has options. Shop where you get hassled and/or give information you would rather not give. Or shop where you are treated as King. Yes, there are fraud issues and certain retailers may have no choice but to continue such policies. But, the risk of losing good customers to alternatives may be even greater.

Mike B
Guest
Mike B
5 years 10 days ago
Tough topic. Perhaps for an unusually large return the requirement of ID might be worth having. The dollar amount would vary by retailer. I do not really agree with requiring ID for small with receipt returns, though, like those mentioned in the initial post. I did a return (with receipt) to Sports Authority a couple years ago of a bike drink holder. It was simple, I bought it there, then walked to the Walmart across the parking lot (where I should have gone in the first place) and saw the same exact item for $6 cheaper. Well, they processed the return through the cash register then took my ID and processed it through some different system. I have no clue what that system was but I am guessing it is shared by other retailers. I won’t buy anything from that place again that I may later need to return. I do know some retailers have instituted an “ID Required for Same Day Returns” policy to address those who dig receipts out of the trash, enter… Read more »
Jerome Schindler
Guest
5 years 9 days ago

Without a receipt, I think requiring proof of identity is more than reasonable—should be spelled out in the store’s policy printed on every receipt. I once bought some Kroger crackers—later saw they were out of date. Not withstanding specific language on the box about “satisfaction guaranteed or your money back” right on the box, I was refused a refund as I had no receipt—was told that was a policy of that particular store due to high theft. They did give me a new box that was in date. I should have returned it to a Kroger store in a “better neighborhood.”

Michael Young
Guest
Michael Young
4 years 10 months ago

I believe that retailers have the right to gather intel about customers’ return behavior in order to detect fraud. However, linking that to a driver’s license is over-stepping on the privacy boundaries.

With such rapid advancements in mobile technology there have got to be a less intrusive, seamless way to detect and prevent such fraud!

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