Consumer Alert: Shoppers can be banned from making returns

Shoppers can be banned from making returns. (WJAR)

As online shopping grows, so does the rate of returns.

These days we buy it first, and then decide if we like it.

“I actually make more returns than I ever did because I find I online shop more than ever, and not having a chance to try it on,” says a shopper at Garden City in Cranston.

Another shopper adds, “I actually feel like I return things more than keeping them just because sometimes the sizes vary.”

But all those returns are costing retailers -- $351 billion in 2017 alone.

What's more, according to the National Retail Federation, $22.8 billion , or 6.5 percent of those returns, were fraudulent.

“So it's a huge economic impact onto the retail industry,” says Kristin Regine, marketing professor for Johnson & Wales University.

Regine says more than 34,000 stores have hired an outside firm called The Retail Equation to track and prevent return abuse. The company monitors how often you're making returns, and what kind of items you're returning.

Return something the Retail Equation views as "risky," and you're going to get flagged.

“If you're pushing that return window, if you're trying to make those returns with a lot of items and you don't have a receipt, or you're trying to return after the fact -- those are going to create these flags in the system,” says Regine.

A Rhode Island shopper tells NBC10 she was flagged by Nordstrom Rack after making too many returns. There are also dozens of complaints online from consumers who've been flagged at stores like Best Buy and Sephora, and consequently banned from making any more returns.

“I'd like to know if I'm not going to be able to return something, instead of trekking all the way to a store and not being able to,” says a concerned shopper.

The Retail Equation doesn't reveal its clients, and with 34,000 of them, chances are good that you're already shopping at a store that's tracking you.

So how do you stay off of their naughty list?

“I think that you have to be a more savvy consumer and be aware of where you're buying and have an intent, instead of just blindly purchasing and hoping you're going to be able to return these items,” says Regine.

A few tips:

Keep your ratio of returns reasonable – don’t return most of your purchases

Hold onto your receipts

If it's a gift, make sure you're asking for a gift receipt.

It's worth noting that the Retail Equation doesn't share information between stores, meaning a ban at one store won't stop you from making returns at another.

Many return bans are lifted after a year.

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