Service of Being Painted By the Same Brush

March 22nd, 2018

Categories: Aggressive sales, Cost Cuts, Customer Care, E-tailing, Retail, Service

There are some companies set up so you can’t reach them and others you can contact but that don’t listen to sense: They see all customers as offenders. A grouchy or nutty customer or employee writes a terrible online review and the words glare back from the top of every Google search about you or your business. Just try to get rid of it even if insane and untrue. Same if a competitor trashes your restaurant or business on Yelp. Nightmare.

And now, a company you can reach but can’t reason with—Retail Equation—can forbid you from returning purchases or exchanging them to a particular store for a year according to its calculations, even if you’re innocent.

Khadeeja Safdar wrote “Retailers Crack Down on Serial Returners,” in The Wall Street Journal. I’m all for that: Cheaters and unreasonable customers are not my favorites. I recently wrote about 106 year old L.L. Bean’s tightening its generous return policy after too many abuses hurt their bottom line in “Service of Going Too Far: L.L. Bean Puts its Boot Down.” But with Retail Equation keeping track of returns and more for retailers, reasonable shoppers can be swept up in the fray and painted by the same brush as serial returners.

One Best Buy customer bought a bunch of cellphone cases as gifts for his kids, let his sons choose among the colors, planning to return the three they didn’t select. When he did his salesperson warned him that the returns would jeopardize future ones–and even exchanges–for a year even though he was well within the designated 15 day after purchase period.

He contacted Retail Equation that tracks returns for large corporations. His entire record showed returns of the three cellphone cases worth, in all, less than $90. The company refused to change its decision. According to Safdar the customer said: “I’m being made to feel like I committed a crime. When you say habitual returner, I’m thinking 27 videogames and 14 TVs.”

Safdar reported: “Stores have long used generous return guidelines to lure more customers, but such policies also invite abuse. Retailers estimate 11% of their sales are returned, and of those, 11% are likely fraudulent returns, according to a 2017 survey of 63 retailers by the National Retail Federation. Return fraud or abuse occurs when customers exploit the return process, such as requesting a refund for items they have used, stolen or bought somewhere else.”

WARNING: You could be on the Retail Equation’s black list if you return in store or online:

  • an expensive item
  • a significant percentage of purchases
  • something without a receipt
  • after the accepted period
  • things that are often stolen at that store
  • just as the store closes or
  • too many items at once

In addition to Best Buy, other stores that use Retail Equation to track returns are Home Depot, J.C. Penney, Sephora and Victoria’s Secret. If you want to protest your ban, you can call Best Buy at 1-866-764-6979 the Journal discovered when researching the story.

“It isn’t easy for shoppers to learn their standing before receiving a warning. Retailers typically don’t publicize their relationship with Retail Equation. And even if a customer tracks down his or her return report, it doesn’t include purchase history or other information used to generate a score. The report also doesn’t disclose the actual score or the thresholds for getting barred.”

I understand the reason for such a policy, but think it should be used judiciously and not be directed by a company that seems to treat every customer like a sleazy thief. Safdar didn’t say if the policy referred to gifts. What if you give your Aunt Millie a portable heater from Home Depot and her son had already bought her one? Who will be dunned and subsequently penalized for the return? Are customers supposed to keep unwanted items instead?  Have you been confronted with such a punishment? Does it make you think twice about using a vendor that resorts to such measures?

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8 Responses to “Service of Being Painted By the Same Brush”

  1. Deirdre Wyeth Said:

    Deirdre wrote on Twitter: I did NOT know this. More reasons to give up o brick-and-mortar?

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    It affects Internet purchases as well. Sleazy customers must be stopped but those vetting must use sense which they don’t appear to do in the Wall St Journal article that inspired the post.

  3. Martha Takayama Said:

    I am appalled by the hypocrisy in the Retail Equation company. The public is virtually drowned in promotion especially for online purchasing all of which does not permit first hand viewing or trying on what is to be purchased. In clothing alone the issues of fit and size are very difficult to ascertain by computer. Sales people encourage multiple purchases always noting that even sale items can be returned unless noted otherwise. The whole notion of a consumer’s retail habits being judged by those wishing to make money from him or her are Orwellian, a complete invasion of privacy! My only personal experience of such a nature was years ago when an arrogant shoe concession in a high end retail store questioned whether or not they would let me make a purchase because my shopaholic sister bought and returned too often. I must add that she definitely spent more than she returned. The experience was so offensive that I left the item and never shopped there again.

    I have absolutely no sympathy for vendors trying to mitigate the repercussions of their aggressive wasteful marketing, and I will not buy from the companies that subscribe to it. I think that Retail Equation should get a different name and focus and offer itself out as a surveillance company.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Imagine hiring a vendor like Retail Equation and then, like Best Buy, having to hire people in your own company to evaluate their judgment calls!

    And what about the innocent, wronged customers who have to plead to be considered for the “good” list again? WHO HAS THE TIME? Life is too short.

    Hope that this crummy solution to a real problem is short-lived.

  5. Protius Said:

    This sounds like a “caveat emptor” issue which the buyer and seller should settle between themselves. If the buyer does not like the seller’s terms, he should find a new vendor, and if the vendor wants to keep his customer, he should soften his terms of sale to accommodate him.

    I realize you have not suggested public intervention, but I’m not sure what else an outsider can do to be helpful.

    Incidentally, I do believe that the government should intervene in situations like this to ensure competition and break up monopolies, to vet health and safety issues, to suppress false advertising and the like.

  6. Protius Said:


    I wrote the post because I wanted to warn people who didn’t know this policy existed at some stores and because it irritated me. I’ve rarely had to return anything but I don’t like the threat of being penalized if I do.

    Wonder if you get a black mark if the item you are returning doesn’t work or doesn’t operate as advertised? As news of the policy spreads, will the bottom line at some of these stores be slammed? If a contractor bought too many bricks, for example, and has a few cases left over from a job will they only be able to make the return once a year?

  7. Lucrezia Said:

    The pesky and annoying customer is part of the cost of doing business. I’ve neither heard of, let alone been targeted by such a policy, but were that to happen, I would find another place to shop.
    The policy of banning returns regardless of reason, stinks, and a “no shop” policy on part of the consumer, might put an end to it.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I almost had to read the article twice as I could hardly believe that a retailer would PAY to potentially turn off so many customers and repeat business especially as many are closing left and right. I think that the store would accept the first return or exchange. It’s just that you might have trouble the next time, especially if, as the list I posted noted, you came to the store as it was closing; didn’t have the receipt; the item was considered expensive etc. etc. Imagine being graded by the likes of such a company! The very concept broils.

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