Curious About Stores’ Return Policies

By Paula Ebben, WBZ-TV

BOSTON (CBS) — This is the season to shop, which will be followed by the season to return.  This year, many stores are changing their policies and requiring additional information from consumers before they will let them make an exchange.

Kelly from Franklin Declared her Curiosity, saying “I made a return and had the original receipt, and they asked for my I.D and I had to sign a ton of stuff.”

Many stores are trying to stem losses associated with fraud, but there is also another motivation for the stores to learn more about you.

In the old days, most stores would take back just about anything. No receipt? No tags? No problem.

WBZ-TV’s Paula Ebben reports


Professor Susan Dobscha, a marketing expert from Bentley University, said those old policies were an example of relationship marketing.  It was a way for the stores to build trust and loyalty with the customers, which would hopefully lead to repeat visits.

These days, you’ll need even more than just a receipt, however.  More stores are requiring photo IDs, home addresses, phone numbers and even email information before you can make an exchange.

Dobscha observed, “It seems like now they’re going in the totally opposite direction where they’re trying to really batten down and hyper control the return policies.”

Retailers say they need to crack down on returns because it costs them so much.  On average, 10 percent of all purchases get brought back to the store. Some people also try to return shoplifted items for cash.


Shoppers don’t seem to like these measures.  One woman said she is fine showing her driver’s license because, “I feel they are just checking to make sure that’s your credit card and everything, but I don’t give out my personal information.”

Another woman says this is annoying, because “I bought it, I paid for it, I have the receipt.  Why do you need any more info than that?”


The answer is marketing.  Some retailers are using this information for more than just theft prevention. 

Dobscha said the second motivation is to collect information for data bases.  “So now you’ve returned something, so now we are able to get your information so that we can market better to you.”

Shoppers don’t like the idea of customer service turning into Big Brother.  One woman felt this would just clog up her email, and said, “It’s something more to delete.”

Another shopper felt like her privacy was violated.


Edgar Dworsky of says when it comes to returns shoppers have rights, but only to a point.

“Technically, a merchant has to disclose their return policy clearly and conspicuously before you buy,” Dworsky explained.  “Could an argument be made that they have to also say ‘We are going to require personal information when you return goods’?  It’s a little bit of a gray area.” 

Stores are also using this information to track repeat returners.  If someone brings back too many things over a short period of time, they run the risk of being shut off altogether.

The retail industry estimated stores lost $10 billion last year alone because of bogus returns.

More from Paula Ebben
  • Sue Murray

    I wanted your story to tell me exactly what I am REQUIRED to give a merchant…not so much what they are asking for and why……..I want to know I have the law on my side when I refuse to give information. Can you get us this???? I am sure I am not the only one wondering.

  • GlennM

    Sue – just tell them you do not have an email address. You are not required to have one. If they really insist then just make one up. As for phone number, tell them it is unlisted. I think the law allows you to withhold that if your number is unlisted.

    I agree, this article would have been more useful had it told you about your rights here. But as usual the news makers are only interested in the sensational, not the informational.

  • DBS

    Amazing, they want I.D when you are returning merchandise to stop fraud, but Never ask for I.D when purchasing items to stop fraud, identity thief. Doesn’t make much sense to me. A little backwards in my opinion.

  • Pika

    Look, not everyone is honest (to be kind) and between stolen cards/identities, professional shoplifters and other thieves, the retail industry needs to protects itself. As a former retail worker at an electronics store, this minority cost the rest of us money in terms of higher prices, etc. Yes some stores are building databases, etc. but not for returns. Having a bunch of information at hand can sometimes provide that information various law enforcement agencies can use to track down criminals.

    Were you frustrated because you needed to give information to buy that iPhone or iPad when they were scarce? Thank the rings of people who bought maximum numbers of products, changed their clothes and got back in line repeatedly so they could resell them illegally. By requiring credit cards and email addresses, Apple was able to say, “You already purchased your maximum number of product at this time….” which allowed more people to get their iPads and iPhones.

    Further, please don’t take your frustration as a shopper out on workers. They don’t set the policy but they do need to enforce it or lose their job. Screaming, swearing, telling them how much you hate corporate culture, etc doesn’t change things. Cut those folks some slack rather than take out your frustration on them.

  • Christine

    What if you give a gift to someone with a gift receipt? Is your friend required to provide all this information if he or she returns something just because it doesn’t fit?

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