return policies
October 23, 2012 2:58 PM   Subscribe

how common or uncommon is it for shops/companies to prohibit individuals from making returns?

I was about to order some skin care products, and I was browsing reviews at makeup alley. one of the reviews caught my eye for a brand I was considering (paula's choice), in part because I had heard of their excellent customer service and return policy.

the review stated that after she had tried several products and colors, she made some returns (although she kept more than she returned according to her review). then she received an email from the company stating that although she was welcome to buy their products in the future, they would no longer accept any returns from her despite their return policy.

reading this review made me a little hesitant to try this company. the question that I have for askme is- how common or uncommon is this? is this something almost every company does? or is this a sign that they may be a sketchy place (what im leaning towards thinking)?
posted by skj√łnn to Shopping (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It's actually a sign of knowing how to deal with sketchy customers without totally alienating them. Buying a bunch of stuff (especially stuff applied to the human body, which may not be resold after return, depending on the commerce laws) and returning it is shitty because it wastes stock and forces the company to do extra work (restocking, returning to manufacturer, bookeeping, etc.) for free.
posted by griphus at 3:03 PM on October 23, 2012 [6 favorites]

Did the review say how many she returned? If it was excessive, I'm not surprised they asked her not to return anymore.
posted by Proginoskes at 3:04 PM on October 23, 2012

It's usually triggered more by multiple returns by the customer --- it's one thing to return one or two items, but to return item after item after item? Especially something like skincare products, stuff where the cost is a complete loss for the company (things they can't reshelve).

The company probably has some sort of internal limit on the number of returns they'll accept before cutting the customer off, and if this particular reviewer made several returns she probably hit that magic number. (Don't forget that you're only hearing her side: she admits to 'some' returns --- I'd be interested to know the exact number, as well as the percentage of her total purchases.)
posted by easily confused at 3:04 PM on October 23, 2012

Once upon a time a zillion years ago, I had a seasonal job at Tiffany's (yes, that Tiffany's).

We were told during training that there were some people who were serial returners, and that they were individually barred from making future returns. All their purchases were flagged (don't remember exactly how this worked), and if that person tried to make a return, we were to refer them to a manager.

I never ran into any of said individuals in my 3-ish months working there. I did, however, have plenty of crazy-ass customers trying to return all manner of things that we should not have accepted, but that we did accept, because it's Tiffany's and they're (apparently) renowned for their customer service. We accepted far more dodgy returns than we turned away weirdo return-obsessives.

(There is a big part of me that would just assume that the person writing that review must be a crazy return-happy whackjob, but I tend to be uncharitable about that sort of thing. Probably because of my history in retail.)
posted by Sara C. at 3:05 PM on October 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

This can happen sometimes, too, when a company has flagged a customer as a stylist or some other kind of buyer/returner of product, and thus not really a true consumer who will use something up and then buy more. It costs money to make a sale; this makes pretty good business sense to me.
posted by peachfuzz at 3:07 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Returns are horrifically expensive for companies. In general, the seller has to eat the cost difference between their price of the product (the wholesale price for a reseller or the per-unit cost for a manufacturer) and the value of the product after return. For an electronic item or clothing, the value of the product after return is quite high - nearing 100% of the wholesale price of the item. For makeup, the value of the product is $0 after return. In other words, even if she kept more than she returned, it is quite likely that returning more than even a single item may mean the company lost money on the transaction. I'm also ignoring the cost to process a return or to manage a returns department; both are fairly difficult to manage.

Behavior like this is not particularly common, but all companies will do it to some extent. You may want to look up the concept of angel and demon customers. As previous commentators have noted, the only question is how obvious companies make it when they do so.
posted by saeculorum at 3:07 PM on October 23, 2012

Basically if someone buys $50 of merch, you net maybe $10, and spend $15 of time processing returns, and foresee a pattern, why should you continue to accept their custom or returns?
posted by griphus at 3:08 PM on October 23, 2012

I've never heard of this happening, but it absolutely makes sense. A cosmetic product that has been opened and tried is not resellable. Plus I suspect there's a small number of people who buy expensive products, dump all or part of them into their own bottles, refill the original with water or cheaper product, and return it. That's not what happened here, it sounds like, but it could happen.

Sucks for the MakeupAlley person, but she took advantage of a generous return policy to use as a personal sampling program. I'd view the company's move in a positive light: they're generous enough to accommodate nearly all shoppers, but they're not pushovers.
posted by Metroid Baby at 3:30 PM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Companies will flag certain customers. My mom worked at QVC and a customer who was trying to game the system got flagged -- for example, ones who consistently reported their order as never having arrived. It's so companies can keep their really good return policies and customer service for the majority, while cutting their losses on the people who take advantage of it for their own profit.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:32 PM on October 23, 2012

I remember reading about this on the MakeupAlley forums maybe 8 or 9 years ago, where some people's credit cards would be flagged and all of their purchases were final sales. Since some people will buy an entire makeup collection the day it comes out and return most of it once they've tried it at home, this policy absolutely makes sense to me.
You'll be fine if you're trying to return something because of a legitimate reason (and "I don't like it" is perfectly legitimate), but buying with the intent to return the merchandise is crappy.
posted by third word on a random page at 3:37 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I know someone who wasn't allowed to return anything at Target for a while because of excessive returns. She was within the window, she had the receipts, and the stuff was all still brand new, with tags. But even I think it was pretty excessive, probably 10-15 items a month for about 6 months before they told her she couldn't return anything for the rest of the year.
posted by magnetsphere at 3:40 PM on October 23, 2012

Having worked in retail, in an old family-owned department store, I can see a good reason to limit returns of anything, but especially something like skin care products. Working in clothing departments, we had people try to return dirty underwear among other things, and the store had to institute a policy of no returns on party dresses because so many people would buy them, tuck in the tags and wear them, then return them sweaty and stained. We also had a customer who buy bags full of inappropriate clothing for her mother in a nursing home, then return the whole bag, wrinkled and tangled, by dumping it on the counter and demanding instant service in the days before tags were scanned in and it was a time-consuming operation. Of course, she always had to be somewhere soon and vented her impatience on the salesperson.

If you have even been on the other side of the counter in any sort of retail or managed a retail operation, you can understand the rationale of no longer accepting returns from those who abuse a generous policy.
posted by mermayd at 3:43 PM on October 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Every retail place I've ever worked has had this sort of policy in place. Usually, you have to be pretty egregious to reach the point where you were no longer allowed to return stuff though.
posted by drezdn at 4:17 PM on October 23, 2012

I think getting flagged for excessive returns is increasingly common. Sometimes it seems from the reports that some retailers might be flagging based on the number of items vs. the percentage returned. like you do buy and spend a lot of money with them but since you buy more you return more and you get flagged.

Not knowing how much this person bought and returned it's hard to say whether you would think it was excessive. I wouldn't buy makeup or skin care online that wasn't returnable as you can't tell how your skin will react to a product or if a color will work if you don't try it. That said Paula's Choice does sell samples so that you can try and avoid this whole problem.
posted by oneear at 4:19 PM on October 23, 2012

According to this Smart Money article from 2010, "...according to some estimates, half of retailers now use specialized databases that evaluate customers shopping habits before approving (or denying) a return."

the FAQ page from a company that offers such a database to retailers.
posted by jamaro at 5:16 PM on October 23, 2012

How many negative reviews did you see? Just one?
I'm tempted to mark most of these answers as favorites, simply because their 'legitimate business-model' explanations make more sense than any alternative theory.
Yes, there are scam outfits out there. A certain internet fax service, for example, makes it nearly impossible to cancel your 'trial membership.' But given the particulars of skin-care products, as has been noted, I'm inclined to give the company the benefit of the doubt.
Try a few. If you need to return something, see what happens. If you're screwed, write another review.
posted by LonnieK at 5:17 PM on October 23, 2012

I can't speak to the general question but as for the particular - I have had good experiences shopping Paula's Choice for a number of years now, including 2 very easy returns for products that didn't suit me.
posted by Salamandrous at 5:50 PM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I work at a Walgreens. We have a very lenient return policy regarding makeup- you can return it within 30 days of your purchase, with a receipt it goes back by original payment or without a receipt you get a gift card at sale price.
Many people don't know that we do returns on make-up. "Wow, you're the only store around here that will let me return makeup even if I've used it!" They'll return that stick of cherries in the snow that just wasn't at all their color and go on their merry way.
And then there are the people that find out we do returns on make-up and clear out the entire display of color tattoo eye shadows and crackle nail polishes, then return all 12 that "didn't look good on them" instead of taking the time in store to think and realize that they actually don't like purple lipstick.
It sounds like you heard from the second kind of person.

When we have a serial returner, we send out an e-mail and put a notice up at the cash register to not take those returns. One lady made us throw out $250 worth of makeup because she decided that the makeup she bought made her look like a hooker. Well, of course black lipstick and blue eyeshadow makes you look like a hooker, why'd you buy 14 different shades?
posted by shesaysgo at 9:25 PM on October 23, 2012

We used to do this in the store I worked at in HS (long time ago, now). Essentially, if you tried to "rent" stuff from us--and it's usually very clear when that's happening--the boss would either flat-out refuse to take it back or take it back and ask them not to shop with us again. Most of the time it was clothing, bought and worn to an event and then returned, but sporting goods were not immune.
posted by maxwelton at 10:25 PM on October 23, 2012

I should add what really got him steamed was intentional damage to return things as "defective." The manufacturer reps would spot that stuff a mile away and refuse it. Ah, good times, good times.
posted by maxwelton at 10:28 PM on October 23, 2012

One thing that Paula's Choice has is small samples of every product to try before you invest. I absolutely recommend their products for this reason alone.
posted by Kronur at 2:15 AM on October 24, 2012

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