Retailers know that customer shoplifting and employee theft cost them billions of dollars a year in lost revenues just in the United States and well over $125 billion worldwide. But, the phenomenon of excessive customer returns seems to be growing, and that also affects the bottom line. And this problem has not received enough attention — until now.

Are you a “wardrober”? (Read on to see what this is.)

Consider these observations by Cotten Timberlake, Renee Dudley, and Chris Burritt, writing for Businessweek:

“Many merchants have long lived by the mantra that the customer is always right, adopting liberal return policies in hopes of winning the loyalty of free-spending shoppers. But with a recent increase in the wearing and subsequent return of expensive clothes — a practice merchants call wardrobing — many retailers are taking a stronger stand against the industry’s $8.8 billion-a-year return fraud problem. Bloomingdale’s, in February, started placing 3-inch black plastic tags in highly visible places, such as the front bottom hemline, on dresses costing more than $150 as they are being purchased. The clothes can be tried on at home without disturbing the special tag. But once a customer snaps it off to wear in public, the garment can’t be returned. Some electronics retailers have also turned to hefty restocking fees to discourage short-term use of expensive electronics to watch events such as the Super Bowl.  And high-end outdoor goods retailer REI recently announced it’s ending its lifetime return policy after customers took advantage of its lenient rules.”

Click the image to read more.


Photo by Emily Keegin for Bloomberg Businessweek

15 Replies to “Don’t Be a “Wardrober””

  1. I’ve always heard of people buying something, wearing it, and returning it but I never realized what a growing problem it was. I’ve never personally done it so I think it’s unfortunate that other consumers are making it so difficult for certain stores. The extra plastic Bloomingdale’s tag doesn’t bother me if I buy an expensive piece but what does is the “restocking” fee. A “restocking” fee seems like a punishment for those of us who are honest customers even though I understand why some companies are frustrated.

  2. As a sales associate in retail, I have a lot of experience with customers that are dishonest. In the past, I’ve seen customers buy large quantities of a specific product and return a handful of them several weeks later, presumably the leftovers from reselling them. I’ve also seen customers take items from the store and then “return” them without the receipt. Once, a coworker of mine confronted a customer who she believed was purchasing products at a different store for a lower price and returning them to our store without a receipt to make money, and the woman was so offended that she caused a scene, yelled at my coworker and stormed out. These instances are the ones that retailers try to avoid, because it makes the store look bad. Also, these types of customers call corporate and try to get us in trouble, and even if we can explain ourselves, we usually have to file critical incident reports and corporate isn’t happy with us. Typically to avoid this, I comply with the customers’ requests of me and try to be as accommodating as possible, but I’m sure it has cost the store a significant amount of money. This is the double edged sword that retailers are facing nowadays: lose money or lose face.

  3. It is extremely unfortunate that customers take advantage of companies in this way. I think REI did a smart thing and renounced its return policy because customers were taking such great advantage. As extreme as it sounds, it might be good for some stores to adopt this policy. Maybe take back return policies since customers don’t have the respect to honor it. I personally only return clothes if they don’t fit, they are damaged, or if a family member bought me it and i just don’t want it. Personally it is so embarrassing to wear a dress out and then the tag pops out for everyone to see. Then everyone knows you are planning to return it after that night. It really doesn’t make any sense to me. If you want it, buy and keep it. Why just wear it then return it?

  4. I do agree that being a “wardrober” is essentially being a shop lifter. Businesses have a right to create stricter return policies if that means they can protect themselves from these sneaky customers. How will retailers flourish if many of their clothes are purchased and returned after use? Bloomingdale’s 3-inch blag tag idea is a simple, yet effective way to discourage buyers from becoming wardrobers. It’s frusterating that retailers have to think of ideas to limit wardrobers, however it is important for retail owners to take authority over their business and not be taken advantage of by their customers.

  5. This isn’t new and may affect online clothing sales more than store sales.

    Some years ago, there was a statistic floating around that 44% of Internet clothing purchases were returned. The stated reason for return was a size issue, although some of that could have been wardrobing, and yes, that had a major impact on inventory and costs. Retailers were acutely aware of this and it led to several initiatives to make sizing for internet purchases more accurate (one proposed solution involved body scanning).

    To say no one is talking about this is really not the case. For example,–internet-trade-rise.html This last article is from 2002.

    If one is touting online clothing sales, the issue of returns is something one may not want to discuss.

    This may also be an area in which brick-and-mortar has an edge over virtual shopping. With a store return, there is some likelihood of seeing the same clerks each time, and they will remember the customer. The staff may start to ask embarrassing questions, or the customer may start to feel uncomfortable. With the anonymity online, that interpersonal pressure is missing.

    1. Thanks for commenting.

      I said “this problem has not received enough attention — until now.” I did not say there have not been earlier stories on returns. 🙂

      The term “wardrobing, like “showrooming”, is of relatively recent vintage.

  6. I think this whole wardrober situation is very much like shop lifting because the customers are taking advantage of the store. It’s so tricky because there’s not a lot a worker can do or say to accuse a customer because as the post says “the customer is always right.” Stores take pride in how well they treat customers, and just like we talked about in class, there are stores that are unique because of their customer service, but this is something that should be paid attention to more. I like the Bloomingdale idea! Of course all stores are going to have to find their own way of dealing with this, but there certainly should be stricter rules to prevent this.

  7. I think how people pull scams like this is completely unethical. Although it may be allowed by law, it is not right. If you buy something and use it, keep it. Our economy does not need that kind of behavior being as we are not as stable as we should be. Once you put money into the economy for certain merchandise, you should not take it back.

  8. Upon reading this article I had no idea that this was such a huge issue nationwide, I heard of consumers like this but it was astonishing to find out that the US loses billions of dollars. I think that some of the practices these stores are implementing is a great way to counteract it, just by making the tags much more difficult to hide and starting to create a detailed database of returns should greatly reduce the practice of this scam.

  9. I don’t think it is that much of a big deal if you return an article of clothing after wearing as long as there is no damage to the clothing. Plus, how are you going to know if you like the clothes or not if you don’t try it on. There is the option to try clothes on in store, so what is the big difference if you wear it at home or out in public for an extended period of time? Plus, if a business is losing money from wardrobing like a business that sells evening gowns, then it is their responsibility to change the return policy which it appears they are doing as noted in the article.

  10. I agree with Tory in that “wardrobing” is essentially shop lifting. I personally don’t understand how someone could wear something out to an occasion and then return it. I believe that that is completely unethical. I would never be able to wear something expensive out, without feeling extremely guilty upon trying to return it. Not only that but I would probably be petrified the entire time I was wearing it that I would somehow manage to damage the item. Although I can sympathize with the customer who accidentally damaged her clothing, trying to remove the “b-tags.” I understand why Bloomingdale’s is taking such action, but perhaps adding a tag that is easier to remove, but still bulky, would benefit both Bloomingdale’s and the customer. Also, I understand that sometimes you want to try something on at home to get a second opinion and to allow yourself ample time to decide if the item is something you truly want, however, I don’t think wearing the item out is necessary.

  11. I think making the tags more visible is a good idea. However, I have seen people remove the tag in a way that allows them to put it back on the dress. It doesn’t look obvious at all and enables people to return the dress with no problems since the tag is on. I understand why people do this–they don’t want to pay for a dress they will probably wear once or twice in their lives. It’s fairly common with prom dresses so retailers are often on alert when prom season comes along in June. Being a wardrober is not the ethical thing to do as it hurts companies but I guess some people just don’t have the money or are just really cheap.

  12. Wardrobing is probably one of the most unethical things to commit as a shopper. If you buy a dress, wear it to a party, and then return it with deodorant stains on the underarms and drink stains on the front, you are a wardrober. Working in retail, I know how frustrated employees can get. Not only does it reduce the store’s revenue, but that stained item will now be marked down at a lower price than what it’s worth. I highly support Bloomingdale’s with their new 3 inch tags places on visible places. Bloomingdale’s is a high fashion department store and is a common place for wardrobers to go to. Bottom line, if you know you can’t afford something, don’t get it.

  13. This is stealing. My friend worked at a retail store over the summer and I was so surprised when she told me how often “wardrobing” occurs. Since she worked at an expensive shoe store, she worked on commission, and when that “sale” is returned the commission is deducted from her pay. So the “wardrober” is not only stealing from the retailer, but also from the employee who is trying to make a living and pay for her education. It was always easily recognizable for my friend when shoes have been worn because the bottom would be dirty, but because the manager of her store did not want to upset the customer, she ignored this and would always retake the shoes back even when they were in unsellable condition. Companies and employers are constantly losing money because of employees selfish acts. However I do think it is unfair to penalize those who are not abusing the return policy, if they are truly unsure if they liked the item purchased.

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