The Cost of Wardrobing

December 1st, 2013 by Andrea Bennett

Are shoppers becoming more honest, or are retailers’ methods of preventing return fraud really working?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

According to the National Retail Federation, $2.9 billion in fraudulent returns were reported during last year’s holiday season – a large percentage of the reported yearly U.S. total of $8.9 billion. “Wardrobing,” the tactic of buying something, wearing it a few times and then returning it, is a primary contributor to the problem, and has been attributed, in recent years, to the struggling economy.

But according to a study conducted by coupon site Tada.com, shoppers are becoming increasingly honest in their transactions and are “fairly fastidious about checking return policies.” The report surveyed 7,063 online shoppers immediately after checking out from nearly 3,000 retailers, and 92 percent of respondents said they would never buy a product with the intent to use and then return it.

But could this perceived lift in responsible shopping have less to do with shoppers’ mindsets and more to do with retailers’ crackdowns on wardrobing? In the Chicago Tribune, Kaitlin Pinsker of Kiplinger’s Money Power reported that stores are getting stingier with their return policies, opting for shorter, 30-day return timeframes this year. And according to Phoenix retail consultant Jeff Green, holiday shoppers should expect some added scrutiny this year, as companies are gathering data about customers who return merchandise, even going so far as to limit the number of items that can be returned within a given time.

Some stores, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, are putting literal impediments in place to combat wardrobing. Bloomingdale’s, for example, is placing 3-inch plastic tags in highly visible places on dresses that cost more than $150. “The clothes can be tried on at home without disturbing the special tag,” Bloomberg’s Cotton Timberlake writes, “but once a customer snaps it off to wear in public, the garment can’t be returned.”

Have you been guilty of “wardrobing?” Are stores doing the right thing by keeping a closer eye on customers, or do some of their tactics constitute an invasion of privacy? Weigh in here.