Victoria’s Dirty Return Secret

Discussion
May 02, 2011
Tom Ryan

Victoria’s Secret got some unwanted press last week when the Today Show ran
a story about their store policy of destroying many items that customers return.

The
show revealed how a woman in Tampa, FL returned a pair of sweatpants only to
see a sales associate cut them to shreds at the counter. Reportedly, the only
mistake the clerk made was failing to cut up the garment in a back room out
of sight of customers.

"I was shocked, because, mind you, these were $70 sweatpants, and there’s
nothing wrong with them," Marie Wolf, described as a long-time Victoria’s
Secret customer, told Tampa Bay Tribune. "The clerk just said,
‘I know, but it’s our policy.’"

Calls by Ms. Wolf to corporate confirmed
that Victoria’s Secret does cut up some returned items so they can’t be resold,
even when they’re in good condition.

"I asked about donating them to Salvation Army. What about Goodwill?
What about all the people who lost everything in the Tsunami?" Ms. Wolf
said to the Tampa Bay Tribune. "I told them I won’t ever shop with
them anymore, and neither will anyone in my family."

The reports didn’t
quantify what portion of returned goods reach the shredder. But Victoria’s
Secret isn’t alone.

Last year, students in Manhattan found discarded garments
with holes cut in them from H&M, according to The New York Times.
Macy’s has also confirmed that while they try to salvage returned clothing,
it destroys some returns.

Speaking to the Tampa Bay Tribune, Suzanne
Long, at the consultant firm SSA & Co., said a retailer may not want to
risk health issues with items like bras, panties or thongs. As for other items,
Ms. Long said the fear is that donations may lead to sales on the secondary
market, bringing down the value of the brand.

"Sometimes you don’t want items going out for resale on the secondary
market at all," Ms. Long said. "Some stores may take last season’s
golf clubs and bend them in half so someone couldn’t easily pick them from
the trash and resell them."

Not surprisingly, many stories were slanted
negative.

"Every time a story like this crops up, consumer sentiment against the
store is just overwhelming," said Doug Stephens, owner of the Retail Prophet
and a BrainTrust member, elaborated. "People walk out and wonder, are
we really so rich as a nation that we throw perfectly good stuff in the garbage?"

Discussion Questions: What do you think of Victoria’s Secret’s and others’ policy of destroying a sizeable portion of its returned merchandise? Are there other methods apparel retailers should explore to discard unsellable returned goods?

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27 Comments on "Victoria’s Dirty Return Secret"


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Dick Seesel
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

I may be in a minority here, but I side with Victoria’s Secret on its return policy. They are in the business of selling underwear! They would be just as liable for criticism if they returned these goods to store shelves or otherwise put them back into circulation. A policy like this may not have much room for nuance or interpretation, since there is a legitimate health issue at the heart of the matter.

Phillip T. Straniero
Guest
Phillip T. Straniero
10 years 7 days ago

It is logical to me that many higher end CPG products do not show up as seconds…I’ve not seen any Rolex watches or Louis Vuitton luggage at T.J Maxx or Marshall’s and I doubt I will find them at the Goodwill store.

On the other hand what is the cost of removing labels and other tags from these products and donating them to non-retail charities for re-distribution to those who need assistance?

I assume the cost of this secondary operation may often exceed the net cost of the item in the long run and prove to be unprofitable for the retailer.

A very difficult situation to manage in the absence of secrecy!

Ian Percy
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

“Policies are just scar tissue over an error,” said a nursing manager friend of mine. Someone does something stupid and we end up with a “policy” on the assumption that if one person does something stupid everyone is likely to do the same thing.

Consequently corporate policies are a substitution for actually “thinking.” For goodness sakes, how difficult is it for a sales person to intelligently decide what returned ‘intimate’ items need to be thrown out and which not-so-intimate items can easily be returned to the shelf or used in some beneficial way?

What the world needs now…in government, retail stores, education, etc….are leaders and sales professionals who think!

Dan Berthiaume
Guest
Dan Berthiaume
10 years 7 days ago

To be honest, and with all sensitivity toward the seriousness of recent events like the tornadoes and tsunami, I don’t think victims of disasters are looking for intimate apparel and in general nobody wants this type of clothing second-hand. However, other brands should have more sensitivity about donating returns. The major US sports leagues set a good example–championship apparel is produced for both teams as soon as the final game(s) is/are set, apparel for the losing team is donated in remote parts of the Third World where it is both highly needed and unlikely to ever appear in developed markets.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
10 years 7 days ago

This is a classic no win situation. We could just as easily be discussing the outrage by a customer being interviewed on the Today Show about how she found out that she had purchased and had worn panties that had been returned to the store and how she was working with lawyers to bring a class action suit against Vickies.

There is no doubt that there are people in need and that there is potential to find a way to help clothe them with returns. It is also true that there are laws on the books in many states that prohibit food retailers and restaurants from giving left-over food to the homeless. There are also laws that prohibit giving used mattresses to homeless shelters. In both cases, the law says that the goods must be destroyed. Before we start vilifying retailers, we should broaden the viewpoint.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

My first response, like others, was that the policy is entirely justified for lingerie and the type of so-called “intimate apparel” for which Victoria’s Secret is primarily known. However, reading further, I am also in agreement with those scornful of retailers destroying other items of clothing. Surely there must be a way of directing them to good/needy homes without running the risk that some less than scrupulous people will attempt to re-sell them for a profit and “de-value” the brand. Making such a policy and route known might even increase the brand’s value.

Nancy Cobb
Guest
Nancy Cobb
10 years 7 days ago

Bravo Mr. Percy. I couldn’t agree more.

Tim Derrig
Guest
Tim Derrig
10 years 7 days ago

This is a challenge that ALL retailers deal with. There really is no clean way out of this one.

For sure, the retailers expose themselves when secondary products are taken out of their selling channel. Yes, these items do end up back for sale in unauthorized and intended markets. This leads to potential harm and degrading/devaluing of the brand.

I once worked for a national retailer who packed up distressed merchandise and shipped it to South America for reselling and redistribution.

Either way, the retailer is faced with costs to deal with these returned items for a product that will not return the initial intended profit. So, cutting them up at the point of return is their least expensive and most expeditious way out.

I am not not condoning this method. However, in our current economy where companies are tightly managing ALL expenses, it seems we have been ‘forced’ into actions such as this.

Kris Medford
Guest
Kris Medford
10 years 7 days ago

I second the idea that empowering associates to use their best judgment is what is needed. Items that need to be destroyed due to health risk, should be–and items that can be re-sold, should be. And whenever an item is not suitable for re-sale, but not a health risk, should be donated vs. destroyed. I disagree with the comment that intimates are not needed for victims of national disaster. Though being “sexy” may not top the priority list for victims, replacing everyday necessities is a priority, and that includes undergarments!

Anne Howe
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

I agree with Mr. Percy in theory, but in actuality, VS is going to have to address this dilemma in a national training manner, not to mention policy and legal issues.

That said, I believe it would be fairly simple to find a way to re-purpose many items from a VS store, especially the shirts and pajamas and sweats to an international organization that can re-purpose the goods across many nations where people are in need. In fact, if the goods were marked or stamped in some way that signaled “gifted” it could actually boost their brand image as being more caring for women overall.

Once trained, the store associates could easily separate the items that can be donated and actually let shoppers know of the generosity the company fosters for scores of needy women all over the world.

This problem seems fixable. What’s VS doing? Get a team on this today!

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

The problem I am seeing is not Vickie’s policy. It is the poorly trained salesperson cutting the returned item in front of the customer. I have no issue with the policy. I do with the execution.

Elizabeth Dennis
Guest
Elizabeth Dennis
10 years 7 days ago

It’s nobody else’s business if VS chooses to destroy returned merchandise. I completely understand the health reasons behind such a policy, and if they choose to make it a blanket policy for all merchandise, it is no one else’s business and that is a plain fact. How many people know that Walmart puts most returned merchandise in the garbage? At least, they used to. I don’t know if they still do.

Roger Saunders
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

The store operations team’s primary focus is taking care of the customers and the store, while controlling costs. Victoria Secret isn’t a two store operation. Their policy is he right one for them.

With hundreds of outlets, they need to systematize their procedures to best service customers, and take care of individual store ops.

The only retail operation that should dispose of product in front of a customer at the store level, is food service. Right thing to do on the part of a restaurant, a garment-based operation needs to do it in the back room.

Mark Burr
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

I agree with Mr. Percy and it starts with leaders who think, teach, train, and reinforce.

Arthur Rosenberg
Guest
Arthur Rosenberg
10 years 7 days ago

Cut off labels, wash the apparel, donate them and take a tax break.

While tsunami, hurricane and tornado victims etc., may not have sexy apparel at the top of their needs list, they likely could use underwear and sweats as a practical matter.

Samantha Brindley
Guest
Samantha Brindley
10 years 7 days ago

Last year VS was in the news for putting undergarments that had been worn and returned back on the racks for sale. Likely this destroy policy for returns was a result of that bad press. While I’d love to agree with some that associates should be able to apply common sense to return situations, sadly, not everyone is equipped with said common sense.

Bill James
Guest
Bill James
10 years 7 days ago

The policy is fine. It’s their property once the return is made. It’s an execution problem. Cutting the garment up in front of the customer communicates the wrong message. VS doesn’t want a complicated policy out there whereby the interpretation is open for discussion by a sales clerk. Lowest common denominator here. They force the thinking out of the equation and that’s the purpose of the policy. Keep everyone safe, and keep the decisions to a minimum.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

I agree with Bill’s “you can’t win for losing” observation, but this whole topic seems absurd: might there be some good reason for the policy? But even if there isn’t, it’s VS’ merchandise to do with as they see fit…the original customer, and others like her, need to either get a grip or MYOB.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
10 years 7 days ago

I don’t have a problem with VS’s policy, whether it’s for sanitary reasons or because they don’t want unresalable, returned product ending up in secondary markets. It makes sense to me, from their standpoint. Clearly, they don’t intend for unresalable returns to be destroyed in front of customers. That becomes a training issue.

Now, if we’re talking about resalable product, never worn, tags on, that’s another story. Then we’re talking about a company policy being implemented without clear thinking or instruction. That becomes a major training issue!

Lee Peterson
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

C’mon all, people are returning defective used underwear! You can’t re-sell that, even if you washed it. I know from experience that there becomes a point with any markdown item that the tax write off is more than you’ll get from any re-sale, or, in this case, with the brand damage done by selling used underwear.

They have no choice, really–besides, it only makes sense.

Warren Thayer
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

Arthur Rosenberg has it totally right, in places where the law allows. To make it happen, probably need a third-party provider to pick up all the stuff, wash it, remove tags, and ship it, so the onus isn’t on the retailer without that core capability. Would be great PR for the Gates Foundation or even a logistical genius like Walmart (they still do that well!) to put this network together and make it reality.

Eliott Olson
Guest
Eliott Olson
10 years 7 days ago

All returns are classified as defective. This is a good policy as it takes the discretion away from a shrink challenged manager and errs on the side of safety. One would not expect a grocer to resell or donate a returned carton of milk or some Irish pork.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
10 years 7 days ago

Where was the rage when a certain politician instituted crushing of thousands of perfectly functional automobiles into scrap metal, in order to sell more cars? For a business to do this it is a perfectly legitimate BUSINESS function. However, for a government to do it it is NOT a legitimate activity. But then, why is government presuming to know better how to run businesses than business does? Oh, right, some of the largest businesses have been quasi-governmental for a long time. Financial institutions at the head of the line. And now as many more as possible, while the worm is turning. πŸ˜‰

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 6 days ago

I’m not going to second guess the good judgment of a successful retailer. Now that they have educated me about their policy I am in total agreement with them. After all, they are not Walmart.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
10 years 6 days ago

Wait a minute; destroying an undergarment returned by a shopper is a bad thing? Especially when you don’t know honestly whether it has been worn by the customer? We don’t complain about no return policies on open computer software and DVDs but shoppers complain about Victoria’s Secret? I don’t get what the fuss’s about.

Kai Clarke
Guest
10 years 6 days ago

Returned underwear, returned food, and many other items should be destroyed so that they will not reach any other market…secondary or other. This ensures preservation of the brand, health issues, etc. This is simply good retail management and ensures that what you get back is what you have sold…only once. Not something else….

Evan Schuman
Guest
Evan Schuman
10 years 6 days ago

There have been too many reports of chains–Victoria’s Secret among them–taking returns and putting them back on the shelf to be sold as new. Some of the reports included underwear. To preserve the brand and assure that returned items won’t be resold, the awkward step of clothing destruction is sometimes needed.

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