You'd better hope Santa gets your size right if he leaves a sweater under the tree this year. If it's too big or too small, you might have a tough time returning it. One in four of the retailers polled in a recent National Retail Federation (NRF) survey said they had tightened their returns policies this year. The reason? Rampant returns fraud.
Not surprisingly, returns fraud peaks around the holidays. This season alone, retailers expect to lose $3.5 billion (by comparison, they expect to lose $9.6 billion for the year as a whole). Of the 90 executives who participated in the NRF's Returns Fraud Survey, nearly all (95.2 percent) said they'd had stolen merchandise returned for a refund. More than twothirds (69.1 percent) reported having merchandise returned that was originally purchased with counterfeit tender, and more than half (52.4 percent) reported being victimized by people returning items using counterfeit receipts.
"Retailers have often viewed lenient return policies as a cost of doing business with honest shoppers," says Joseph LaRocca, NRF vice president of loss prevention. "Unfortunately, due to an increase in return fraud, retailers are being forced to strike a delicate balance between servicing loyal shoppers and discouraging opportunistic criminals."
If you do try to return that sweater, don't be surprised if it gets unusually close scrutiny from the clerk at the returns counter. Retailers are also trying to crack down on attempts to return merchandise that's been worn (or used) but is not defective, a practice known as "wardrobing." More than half of the survey respondents (56.0 percent) said they'd had customers try to return used merchandise—everything from special occasion dresses to laptop computers. Though most people assume the store will simply turn around and resell these items, retailers say they're often forced to heavily discount or even discard the used merchandise.