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Businesses Privacy The Almighty Buck

Retailers Deploy Databases Against Customers 601

A couple of people submitted this piece about retailers using databases to crack down on sub-optimal customers, such as those who return too many purchases to the store. Also has a few tidbits about other database blacklists that are available to companies. Customers avoid intrusive practices; although this story was written by the Washington Post and I have the URL to the original story available, I declined to link to washingtonpost.com because of their intrusive registration.
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Retailers Deploy Databases Against Customers

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  • Easy solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:11PM (#10747344)
    Pay with cash.
    • by adriantam ( 566025 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:14PM (#10747359) Homepage
      How about shop-lifting?
      • by Zorilla ( 791636 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:16PM (#10747378)
        Another advantage being that the penalty is less than it is for copyright infringement.
        • Re:Easy solution (Score:4, Insightful)

          by brianosaurus ( 48471 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @03:40PM (#10747901) Homepage


          Are you saying that ACTUAL STEALING carries less penalty than some sort of nebulous pseudo-theft of "intellectual property"?

          That actual criminals get off easier than high-school kids trying to find new music?
        • by Anonymous Coward
          ...although...I have the URL to the original story available, I declined to link to washingtonpost.com because of their intrusive registration.

          What's up Michael? Did they refuse to kick-back some ad revenue to ya or something?
    • Sure--and give up the ability to have your credit card company chargeback against the store in the event of unsatisfactory merchandise, or, in the case of this story, a store backing off its own stated return policy. I would have called my credit card company and had the charge reversed when I was standing at the returns counter.
      • Re:Easy solution (Score:4, Informative)

        by phatsharpie ( 674132 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:27PM (#10747458)
        From the article

        Retailers like the Limited are fighting back. Sometime in the spring, consumers and Express workers say, the store began replacing the placards denoting its return policy with new signs saying the company uses an "industrywide" system to authorize returns and that "under certain circumstances we reserve the right to deny returns."

        The store did not back off of its own stated return policy.

        Better solution, take your business elsewhere.

        • 3 days law (Score:5, Interesting)

          by TyrranzzX ( 617713 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @05:09PM (#10748556) Journal
          Stores must take merchandise back within 3 business days if the customer believes it is flawed, and return payment. Perhaps she returned it in perfect condition, but the store won't give the money back because it feels she is taking advantage of them. If she returned the clothing with a complaint such as "hey, I payed $80 for this brand name clothing, and it isn't double stiched" or something to that degree, then she'd have an arguement.

          As for the "perfect" solution, I'v got an idea; Don't buy from retail chains that abuse you, and if you know they abuse other people, don't buy from them either. Perhaps the second best point I could make, would be consume less you consumerist pig!. We all have needs and wants, and in our society, those wants have gotten out of control due the mind control of advertising and schools. Yes, it takes some time for people to wise up to this, but if public schools hadn't coupled making us childish with making us smart, then mabye the advertising would've kicked in as hard and screwed with our grey mass as kids. I know I'm still dealing with that mindfuck, and I also know that if I ever find someone who's in marketing, I'm going to walk away from them without saying a word.

          "Hi, I'm grace, I work in the marketing department"

          *Ty walks away, without saying a word.*

          If anyone asks, it's because when I find people who do marketing I feel the almost insupressable urge to disembowel them with anything that's handy. They have been a part of destroying my life and identity to turn a profit. It's one thing if they ask "well, how's marketing bad?", it's different when they try to lie and be friends.

          With that said though, learn not to be tracked, and consuming less is as simple as using less for awhile and paying off all of your debt, then living within your means properly while keeping a saving account going for a rainy day or emergency. Learn not to be wasteful, that's the key.

          • Re:3 days law (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Grishnakh ( 216268 )
            Another largely-evil profession is Human Resources. A few years ago, I was on Match.com looking for dates, and met a girl who worked in HR at Target. As usual, we started out just exchanging emails, but we never met because we instead got in a nasty argument about jobs: she complained about how it was so hard to find decent employees, and I said something to the effect that if employers want better employees, or more loyal employees, they should offer better pay and benefits, and treat their workers well.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Easy, dont shop in the US, in the EU we have RIGHTS :D
      • Re:Easy solution (Score:3, Insightful)

        by raju1kabir ( 251972 )

        Easy, dont shop in the US, in the EU we have RIGHTS

        If you live in Europe, I bet you have no idea what the returns culture in the USA is like. It's completely insane and I 100% support shops that are trying to rein it in.

        I know plenty of people who return more than half of what they buy from clothes and electronics stores, for the stupidest reasons. Clothes because they decided later that they didn't like the color after all; electronics because they didn't do even the most basic research and had no id

        • Re:Easy solution (Score:3, Interesting)

          by halowolf ( 692775 )
          In Australia stores do not have to accept returns if you "changed your mind". However some of the bigger stores do allow returns as a customer service. Others allow an exchange for "credit" where they still get their money out of you, and others just assert their rights and say no.

          There do exist legal protections for customers where retailers have to accept returns on purchases if they are faulty et all, allowing them to get a replacement, their money back or a third option that I just can't remember, or

    • Re:Easy solution (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Trekologer ( 86619 ) <adb AT trekologer DOT net> on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:55PM (#10747637) Homepage
      No. Pay with a credit card.

      All credit card companies offer cardholder protections, including refunding your money if you have a problem with the merchant.

      Clearly, denying you a return because you were flagged by a computer database is an abuse of their return policy.

      Simply dispute the charge because the store refused to take back the merchandise. You'll get your money back, the store will get a fee for having the purchase charged back, and you'll probablly end up keeping the merchandise (unless your credit card issuer wants it).
      • Re:Easy solution (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Dr. Zed ( 222961 )

        Clearly, denying you a return because you were flagged by a computer database is an abuse of their return policy.

        It is not that clear. This sort of information isn't generally used against people who are following the return policy (e.g. have a receipt, return within time period allowed). This type of info is used against people who habitually return items without a receipt. They might be willing to take you at your word once or twice, but if you make a habit of returning questionable stuff on a regular

        • Re:Easy solution (Score:3, Interesting)

          by dustman ( 34626 )
          I worked at a local Home Depot for awhile.

          As part of the employee training, we were told some stories about the Despot's "crazy" return policy.

          The one where I worked used to be a BJ's or Sam's or something, one of those huge food wholesalers.
          An old woman brought in a frozen 6 pack of blueberry muffins, that she had had in the freezer for more than 2 years, because "she didn't like them", and the refund was granted.

          Another guy came in with a dead-looking plant, a shrubbery. He said that he had bought it
    • I have this reoccuring nightmare that I will be denied future Medicare (the USA system for providing medical care for old people) benefits when the system goes backrupt in ten years.
      The excuse that they will use is that I ate to much red meat or candy bars in my middle-aged years. The source of this denial of benefits was the data collected on all the grocery store purchases made from the early 2000's on.
      I try to obtain the grocery store cards without giving any name and address in order to inhibi
  • Related link (Score:5, Informative)

    by A Boy and His Blob ( 772370 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:14PM (#10747363)
    Best Buy [slashdot.org] has been accused of doing this.
    • Re:Related link (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:18PM (#10747388)
      I'm more annoyed by Best Buy lumping in 'People who only shop during a sale' with 'fraudsters and scammers trying to rip off the company.'

      And that's even before getting into their 'non-repair and replacement plans.'
      • Re:Related link (Score:4, Informative)

        by Bendy Chief ( 633679 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:56PM (#10747641) Homepage Journal
        'Fraudsters and scammers trying to rip off [a] company'?

        That's heee-larious. You see, up until late October, I worked for a major phone tech support outsourcer. My contract was for a big home PC maker.

        Anyway, the poor guy who phoned me had bought the "Open Box Special" from Best Buy, wherein the (incomplete) tower was still in the battered box, but everything else, including 17" TFT monitor, was missing. Best Buy gave this "deal" to him for a few hundred bucks, and then said "Phone Company X, their warranty covers hardware replacement! They'll give you $700 or so worth of stuff!"

        Long story short, Best Buy fucking sucks.
      • Re:Related link (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Skater ( 41976 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @03:27PM (#10747820) Homepage Journal
        I sent a nasty e-mail to Best Buy Friday after I visited a store. They completely ignored me for the half hour I spent walking around the audio department (and they were NOT busy - it was Friday morning right after they opened), but when I finally bought something they had no problem stopping me at the door to check my receipt. As I summed it up in the e-mail, "Before the sale: totally ignore me; After the sale: treat me like a criminal".

        The response I got said they'd share my comments with that store's management.

        • Re:Related link (Score:3, Insightful)

          by GlassUser ( 190787 )
          but when I finally bought something they had no problem stopping me at the door to check my receipt.

          So why'd you stop at the door? I just keep walking. What are they going to do? Ask you again to stop? Same for fry's. If they lay a finger on you, it's assault. If they attempt to restrain you, it's criminal detainment (or whatever charge may be appropriate to your state - this assumes you did not commit a crime there).

          So yeah, just keep walking.
        • Re:Related link (Score:3, Interesting)

          by grotgrot ( 451123 )
          they had no problem stopping me at the door to check my receipt

          That practise is actually largely aimed at the cashiers. A simple way of shoplifting is to have your buddy be a cashier and not charge you for stuff. There would be no trace of such a crime, unless they check at the doors.

  • by Ph33r th3 g(O)at ( 592622 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:15PM (#10747366)
    Any such database, whether internal or not, is a de facto consumer reporting system and should be subject to the same requirements of disclosure, the same rebuttal process, and the same government oversight as credit bureau reports.
  • Better sources (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    As a good customer you should seek alternate sources of the same product.

    SF Gate Article [sfgate.com]

    Google News search [google.com]
  • As long as there exists a manual override to deal with exceptions and the same system is being used to highlight and reward model customers. It should be a system to improve shopping and not just to reduce risk from bad customers.
    • I mean, since when has any sort of people tracking system turned out to be good for the people being tracked?

      Middle managers and company pressure generally means that any such thing will be used for bad, not good. And it will probably mean that you'll not only have this ridiculous thing called "credit" but also "credibility" with stores when it comes to purchasing and it will be completely up to them to decide if you are a good person or not.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Sinclair [boycottsbg.com] noticed, why not broaden the effort? Remember RFID reactions?

    Establishing a certification branding program for 'vendors that do not suck' might be effective.
  • "I'm sorry, sir, you can't return that sweater because you've already exceeded your maximum allowed returns for the year. If you'd like, we have sweater stretchers on sale in aisle 4 and dye in aisle 5; perhaps you can just make it into the size/color you want. THANK YOU for your continued business!"

    I mean... really... I can see if they're going to only use it for some sort of fraud detection, but even then, how do you DO anything with that information?
    • by wibs ( 696528 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:35PM (#10747504)
      Agreed. It's like checking credit card IDs in retail - the credit card companies have the idea that if the card doesn't match the ID, the guy at the counter is supposed to confiscate the card. Sorry, but I can't think of anyone willing to get into a fistfight with a customer over their minimum wage retail cashiering job.

      That said, I don't think a consumer blacklist is really that bad of an idea, provided it wasn't abused (big caveat, I know). There are people who complain about everything. They're the ones who say their food is too cold so they can get a free meal, bend a bookcover and then point it out to get a discount on a book, say a customer service rep was too slow so they get a free consultation... whatever. These people exist, and I've had to deal with them. Quite frankly, they aren't worth the time and effort I've had to put into them, and I wish I had a way of saying nope, I'm sorry, but you have a long history of being a jackass and I'm not going to help you.

      That's just a fantasy of mine, though... I can't think of any good way to regulate or maintain a list like this. I'm sure that smarter people than I are trying to figure it out, but they haven't seemed to either (not yet, anyway).
  • by Zorilla ( 791636 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:19PM (#10747392)
    Cashier: I'm sorry, Mr. Constanza, you can't return this book.
    George: Why not?
    Cashier: It's been flagged. It's been in the bathroom.
    • by Chris Siegler ( 3170 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @03:00PM (#10747666)
      I actually thought you were going to say

      Jerry: "Excuse me I'd like to return this jacket."

      Teller: "Certainly. May I ask why?"

      Jerry: "........For spite..."

      Teller: "Spite?"

      Jerry: "That's right. I don't care for the salesman that sold it to me."

      Teller: "I don't think you can return an item for spite."

      Jerry: "What do you mean?"

      Teller: "Well if there was some problem with the garment. If it were unsatisfactory in some way,then we could do it for you, but I'm afraid spite doesn't fit into any of our conditions for a refund"

      Jerry: "That's ridiculous, I want to return it. What's the difference what the reason is."

      Teller: "Let me speak with the manager...excuse me .............Bob!"

      (walks over to the manager and whispers)

      Teller "........spite....."(Manager walks over)

      Bob: "What seems to be the problem?"

      Jerry : "Well I want to return this jacket and she asked me why and I said for spite and now she won't take it back."

      Bob: "That's true. You can't return an item based purely on spite."

      Jerry:. "Well So fine then ..then I don't want it and then that's why I'm returning it"

      Bob: "Well you already said spite so......"

      Jerry: "But I changed my mind.."

      Bob: "No...you said spite...Too late."
  • This really isn't new, it has been done at the store level forever. When I worked retail many years ago we would finger people who returned stuff excessively and deny them any further returns. So the only really new thing is the fact that it is automated, though I am sure the managers of a store have some level of override for this (THEY ALWAYS DO).

    And remember if you don't like it, DON'T shop there. Voting with your dollar is the best way to tell a retailer you don't like something. So don't shop there and pen a letter to their corporate office telling them so. Don't yell at the local people, they have no control, don't email it is meaningless. Simply don't shop there and WRITE a snailmail letter to their corporate office.
    • The danger with non-policy overrides is that they open up a store to bias claims, which can be far more costly then the actual benefit obtained.

      i.e. The manager is more likely to over-ride for nicely dressed white women then for a minority.

      Combined with the facts that bias does exist in the world, and I think you'd see at the larger chain corporate type places that human override of this type of system is harder then expected.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      if you don't like it, DON'T shop there

      The funny part being that's exactly what the store want you to do.
  • by MakoStorm ( 699968 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:20PM (#10747401)
    There will always be people who abuse policies. But, if you make it hard to do business with someone, they will stop doing business with you.

    In this story, if the woman spent 2,000 bucks a year on cloths, say she returned 500 bucks worth in the same year, then the store is making 1500 from her. Now, since she has a bad feeling, and doesn't like to shop there anymore, she might only spend, 200-400 a year there, or maybe no money at all. So now instead of making 1500 a year on her they make much less. The returns she brought back could be resold anyway, so the business is not taking a loss.

    There are two things; first they want people to buy on impulse, (such as clothing) and they must realize impulse will fade away sometimes. Returns are to be expected.

    Another point is that returns are apart of business. They just are, and they must be ready for them. If someone conducts a lot of business with them, they will probably have more returns then a casual customer who only buys once in a while.

    -anyhow, bad Juju,
    • Mod parent up (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Infonaut ( 96956 ) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:25PM (#10747444) Homepage Journal
      This is Business 101, as MakoStorm points out clearly. These guys are just shooting themselves in the foot.

    • by commo1 ( 709770 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:34PM (#10747500)
      They're not making $1500. Now, in the clothing, margins are quite high, I agree, but let's say they're making $1200 gross. If the merchandise is returned, they restock and sell. After their overhead kicks in (returning stock is VERY expensive, except in some circumstances, as in same-day returns) they're lucky to hit $600-$700 IF they sell all the merchanise. It also messes up the numbers for the day, week, month, quarter, etc... And it's usually the local store that gets the blame for this, not head office checking in. After running a PC parts store for a few years, I got totally fed up with people thinking I was making a killing off stock. I buy an HD for $80, sell it for $105-$110. Some guy returns the thing a week later. By the time the week rolls by, it has depreciated by $10.00. Also, the next customer coming in to buy the think complains it's used. Out the door for $75.00. If it breaks within the warranty period, I've just lost about $50.00 or more, because the customer with the dead HD gets a replacement on the spot or next day. Even though the HD has depreciated in a year to costing $60, I've got to come up with the funds out of cash flow. Part of this problem is the internet and eBay deluding people into thinking that they can buy equipment and supplies at prices lower then we can buy them at wholesale. I had one guy tell another customer that the copy of MS Office 200 Pro I was selling for $325 was a rip-off, that I was making $250 on it, becuase he can get it online for $50.00. I was making $30.00 on the software, and that was because it was already in stock and I was paying no shipping to get it here. The end result is that we have to pick and choose our customers carefully. There were some customers who got blacklisted locally: I would call 2-3 other stores around and tell them the latest story about him before he got to them after trying to wrangle a deal out of me, and they would do the same for me. He caught on and got very angry. One time this particular guy swore he was going to get the police involved. I dialed the number for him and handed him the phone.
  • player piano (Score:4, Informative)

    by Siniset ( 615925 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:21PM (#10747405) Homepage Journal
    those of you who like science fiction, kurt vonnegut or are worried about these types of situations should read PLAYER PIANO by kurt vonnegut. It was written in 1952 (!) i think, and is about computers making decisions about which jobs are important, and which jobs are unnecessary. Yeah, it's a worst case scenario, but computers and databases are just going to become more and more prevelant in our lives.
  • Good! (Score:5, Informative)

    by RylandDotNet ( 81067 ) * on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:21PM (#10747408) Homepage
    I think a lot of retail sales workers will cheer for this. I used to work in retail (admittedly a long time ago) at Radio Shack, and I can't count the number of times people borrowed TVs and speakers. Superbowl time was the worst, people would buy a TV to watch the game and then return it a couple of days later. They didn't even have the decency to lie about it, either, they admitted that they only wanted it long enough to watch the game, but Radio Shack policy was to take it back, no questions asked.
    • Re:Good! (Score:5, Informative)

      by mrsev ( 664367 ) <`moc.camyps' `ta' `vesrm'> on Sunday November 07, 2004 @03:35PM (#10747873)
      Coming form europe I find this all a little puzzling. I mean IF a store says you can return items no questions asked then fine and they must accept. If they say they garantee satisfaction and givce money back then fine. If they dont then they dont. It is not usual for stores in europe to offer this. In most places over here if I buy a 82cm TV and then try and return it 2 weeks later they will ask me if it is defective. If it is not then they will tell me that it is not their problem any more.

      Basicaly the stores cant have it both ways. If your policy is "no questions asked" then "no questions asked" it must be.

      On the other side of the coin the EU has rules that there must be a 2 year warranty. This saved me many times , for example, when my wife had a Palm Tungsten E bust after 3 months. Any US customers were shafted with a 90 day warranty. For me it was replaced and the warranty is still good for another 18 months.
      • Re:Good! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )
        In the UK you can return undamaged goods no questions asked for a short period (either 14, 28, or 30 days, I forget which) after you purchased them (sale of goods act). You can also return goods up to a year after you purchase them if they are `not suitable for the purpose for which sold' (trade descriptions act). These are statutory rights, and are not affected by any store policies - any store that does not allow returns within these periods is liable for prosecution.
      • Re:Good! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Richard_at_work ( 517087 ) <richardpriceNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday November 07, 2004 @04:04PM (#10748045)
        Ive never come across this 'EU rule' that says there must be a 2 year warranty. Infact, Id be very surprised, since most things Ive purchased in the EU has only come with a 1 year manufacturers warrenty.

        That said, in the UK you are extremely well protected. Forget warranties, quote the Sale Of Goods Act 1979. Just a few protections given under that act:
        • Goods are of satisfactory quality if they reach the standard that a reasonable person would regard as satisfactory, taking into account the price and any description.
        • It is the seller, not the manufacturer, who is responsible if goods do not conform to contract. This covers the "go speak to the manufacturer" copout that many retailers give you
        • For up to six years after purchase (five years from discovery in Scotland) purchasers can demand damages (which a court would equate to the cost of a repair or replacement). Protection for 6 years under this act. Better than a warranty IMHO.
        linky [dti.gov.uk] This act covers inherent faults, EG your new DVD player not lasting a reasonable period of time (5 years?), or your PC developing a hardware fault 18 months down the line. It does not cover changing your mind or wearing out of goods.
        • Re:Good! (Score:3, Informative)

          by theLOUDroom ( 556455 )
          Ive never come across this 'EU rule' that says there must be a 2 year warranty. Infact, Id be very surprised, since most things Ive purchased in the EU has only come with a 1 year manufacturers warrenty.

          Why not do a google search?
          Here's a link that refers to just such a two year warranty. [warrantyweek.com]

          I would guess that the required warranty period varies with device and/or cost, but it does seem like there is a rule out there somewhere.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:21PM (#10747415)
    I'd be curious to know how difficult it would be for a clerk to flag a customer as 'bad' after having received customer flak.

    Having worked retail, I know I'd be tempted.
  • by httpamphibio.us ( 579491 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:23PM (#10747421)
    I don't really see anything wrong with this. Companies should be able to participate in any legal activity they want to, they just need to make it explicitly clear to the customers before they purchase, a large sign would do.

    When I go into the convenient store on the corner it has a large sign that says, "No shirt, no shoes, no service." So I already know the consequence of entering the store without shoes.

    The problem occurs when stores don't do a good job of letting their customers know their policies... if the store policies are available to customers (which they are often not) it's typically printed on a receipt, or even worse, in that light blue writing some receipts have on the back.

    Most stores probably think that something like putting a large sign that says, "We track all your purchases and you are only allowed X number of returns per year." would be bad for business, but when people realize the store policies by getting surprised by them like the lady in the story, that sort of things is absolutely horrible for business.
    • by blether ( 817276 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @03:04PM (#10747685)

      Companies should be able to participate in any legal activity they want to

      Obviously. And they can. And they do. Until we decide that companies have an unfair advantage and then we make the activity illegal.

      The fact that's it's legal at the moment is irrelevant to the argument about whether it's a good thing.

  • One side (Score:4, Interesting)

    by augustz ( 18082 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:23PM (#10747427) Homepage
    Was struck that the systems might be pretty simplistic in nature.

    I could think of a few things to add:

    Time since purchase (if only a day less likely to have been 'wardrobed'), returns relative to total purchases, quantity of total purchase made and not returned per customer etc.

    Local variance on return policies is of course not possible, as this opens the store to charges of various types of bias.

    I for example shop at Amazon a lot, even if their prices are higher. Why? Because I am happy and comfortable with their return policy among other things. Looking at my order history I notice I have been going their for seven years now, and my purchasing power has probably increased over that time.

    A shame to lose long term / loyal customers.

    That said, I had a friend who worked at a name brand clothing store, and people flat out do steal and return items. Or simply steal. That would drive me nuts.

    • Re:One side (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Txiasaeia ( 581598 )
      "I for example shop at Amazon a lot, even if their prices are higher. Why? Because I am happy and comfortable with their return policy among other things. Looking at my order history I notice I have been going their for seven years now, and my purchasing power has probably increased over that time."

      I find this *extremely* interesting. First of all, I love Amazon (.ca, .com & .co.uk). Their prices (at least up here in Canada) are not only competitive, but typically much, MUCH cheaper than any other l

  • Obvious step (Score:3, Interesting)

    by luvirini ( 753157 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:23PM (#10747428)
    This is an obvious step for them to take, though the actual merits might be debated.

    The world use to be a place where most stores actually knew personally each of their customers, but those days are long gone at the same time as the village store. In those days the shopkeeper knew who to sell to and how, today the only way to get this information from among the thousands or millions of customers is the use of a CRM.

    There was obviously an intermediate period between the demise of the village store and the introduction of these computer systems in question, so this thing seems new.

    But in the end.. the store wants to make money by making sure it gets maximum benefit of their customers.. like any other company...

  • Oh boy... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by the arbiter ( 696473 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:24PM (#10747433)
    Alright, here goes my karma...

    All I can say is "it's about time". Having worked in retail a goodly portion of my life (thankfully not any more) all I can say on reading this is that a system like this is really overdue.

    It's a small percentage of customers (my best guess, based on my experience, is about 2-3%) that abuse return privileges and monopolize the time of salespeople, but the percentage that does costs so much money and time that it's unbelievable...far more than the store would ever make in profit from these folks over a lifetime of shopping. To look at it another way, these groups of problem customers drive up costs just as much as shoplifters do (and in fact any retail business loses far more money to customers like the one cited in the article than they ever would from shoplifting).

    Customers have available to them, and rightfully use, systems to find the best deals for themselves. It doesn't strike me as being a problem that retailers finally have some of the same tools available to them. And they should use them as well.

    • Re:Oh boy... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by evilviper ( 135110 )
      Congratulations, you've nailed the slippery slope thing down.

      Let me ask you... How far should companies be allowed to go? Should they refuse people entry into the store, because they stood around in the store for a long time, and didn't buy anything?

      Next up, open a store that doesn't admit blacks or hispanics, because they are less likely to have lots of money to spend.

      No, companies should not be allowed to "shop around" for their customers, and tracking systems like this should be looked at very cauti
  • Story to read (Score:3, Informative)

    by ManyLostPackets ( 646646 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:24PM (#10747434)
    Heres the story: [washingtonpost.com]
    get a userid and password: [bugmenot.com]

    Lastone i tried that worked was:
    Userid: sad@day.com
    Password: sadday
  • Copy protected CDs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Zorilla ( 791636 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:25PM (#10747439)
    This reminds me of some of the discussions around here about copy protected CDs that don't play being returned as defective merchandise ad nauseum until the store agrees to let you buy something else with the store credit.

    This rules out fighting CD copy protection at least in this manner.
    • by the pickle ( 261584 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:33PM (#10747489) Homepage
      Maybe it does, maybe it doesn't.

      Pay with a credit card and if the store refuses the return, you're still stuck with defective merchandise, regardless of what the store thinks about the legitimacy of your return. Just call the credit card company and tell them that you attempted to return the CD and that the store refused to accept it. That's grounds for getting your credit card credited, anyway. Enough chargebacks against that merchant and they'll quit this silly practise. (Of course, we don't know whether Best Buy/Circuit City/Fry's/FYE/whoever is doing this right now, either.)

      Not that I really think enough people are doing the CD thing for it to matter anyway...

  • by norfolkboy ( 235999 ) * on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:27PM (#10747455)
    Thankfully the UK's "Data Protection Act" will prevent this coming here :-)

    info on data protection act: http://www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk/ [informatio...ner.gov.uk]
  • by farmer11 ( 573883 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:27PM (#10747459)
    Do we (consumers) need to start a database to somehow screw businesses now too?
  • by the pickle ( 261584 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:28PM (#10747464) Homepage
    This should work without any registration:

    Some Shoppers Find Fewer Happy Returns [washingtonpost.com]

  • by Knetzar ( 698216 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:28PM (#10747465)
    So who's going to create a blacklist of those companies that use this service?
    • Funny that you mention it. This system will cause all the bad customers to flock to the stores that do not have that system, thus causing them to lose more money. Therefore they are under more pressure to get this system.

      This is not a winnable fight from the perspective of the customer.
  • by dacarr ( 562277 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:30PM (#10747474) Homepage Journal
    OK, dumb question, I know where the problem is like anyone else. It's supposed to prevent the "Fry's Rental" problem, but as is demonstrated in the article, it's still a bit buggy. Evidently, this is something that needs to have a human making a decision as well.
  • by UserChrisCanter4 ( 464072 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:39PM (#10747536)
    I don't know; there are just so many benefits and negatives on each side of this situation. This entire setup really is just like applying for a loan. The stores are building a home-grown "credit"-reporting system, and analyzing your risk as a financial investment. Not making an exchange is akin to throwing down a 14% interest rate on a mortgage: you still have the right to accept such a rate, and the bank has a chance to retain profitability. Not accepting an exchange is certainly not the optimal way I would choose to go about such a decision, but I suppose it's the best one in the situation posed by a clothing retailer.

    On the one hand, it does make for some nasty situations. The woman in the article may not realize it, but even with the $2,000 a year she spends, she may be far less profitable than a person who spends $200 on a single splurge purchase once. Ultimately, that leads to higher prices for all of us, and retailers are trying to go in an entirely opposite direction. The benefits of streamlining and smoothing out everything from supply side to process to (unfortunately) wages means that things are, on a whole, a lot less expensive than I remember even 10 years ago. Having worked in retail, I've seen some of the absolutely nightmarish return scenarios that people don't seem to think twice about: big-screens returned the day after the Superbowl or big-screens that people pretty obviously ruined while trying to save the delivery charge, people "checking out" cameras and camcorders for the length of the exchange period, etc. It comes back on the next guy in the form of higher prices, and it comes back on the employee in the form of smaller profits which equal less pay/less employees.

    Of course, the system's also primed for abuse. Best Buy was mentioned in the last such article, and although they explicitly said that they didn't plan on implementing blocks or any actions against "less desirable" customers, there's nothing to stop the next guy down the street from refusing the customer who only buys the loss-leader rebated items (and nothing to stop BBY from changing this policy further down the road).

    For the vast majority of us who don't play such games, it means a better deal, for the most part. As other posters have mentioned, though, such lists probably should be subject to the guidelines of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and store employees should always be given the option to override such list systems for returns.

    Ultimately, though, this falls into the same category as razor-blade-business-model printers and shortened warranties on products; the free market model assumes a buyer who is educated on the product (and I suppose a buyer who isn't looking to scam the store on said product), and that is a model that is contrary to the average consumer in the real world. How different is such a list, really, from a credit report or insurance analysis? Systems such as these are a way for businesses to compete effevctively in a tighter marketplace. No company has a right to a profit, but they do have a right (within the limits of the law) to implement policies and systems that give them the best chance to earn a profit. Conversely, the consumer has a right to choose a company with a totally different system. While you can certainly argue that the profits go straight to the major shareholders and CEO (and I won't dispute it), they do also make it to the customer in the form of cheaper (in both senses of that word, unfortunately) goods.

    In short, I'm not a fan of the system, but I do recognize its usefulness as well as the fact that people who do tend to abuse the system can always shop elsewhere (or straighten up).
  • Well (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sulli ( 195030 ) * on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:40PM (#10747544) Journal
    Obviously the answer here is not to be a jerk who buys tons of clothes and then returns them. Why not, ya know, TRY THE FUCKING THINGS ON before buying? Or is it more fun just to spend $2000 at Express and then see what fits and what makes you look like an idiot?
    • Re:Well (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pkhuong ( 686673 )
      I'm reminded of H&M, where they tell customers over the PA that they can just return items instead of waiting to try out the clothes. I guess the practice of buying and returning clothes isn't as bad as it sounds. Plus, there are situations where you simply can't know if it'll fit, be it because you're buying for someone else, (the following mostly applies to women, i guess ;) you don't have the support you want to try it with, or (you think...) you're bloated.
  • by Wansu ( 846 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:41PM (#10747550)

    People have had their homeowner's coverage dropped for making small claims and for even asking whether something was covered. This has been going on for several years. In essence, this represents a stealth conversion of policies to catastrophic coverage only. You might as well raise your deductable to $5000.
    • Over the past 25 years, my parents have made two claims on their homeowners insurance (Always with allstate.) The first, in 1989, was for water damage related to pipes that burst. This happened because the house was broken into in the dead of winter and the theives left the back door open. The second time was in 2003, also for water damage, although we still can't figure out exactly why the pipes burst (different house.) Our insurance company tripled my parents premium. Needless to say, my parents are no lo
  • Aww... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Ikn ( 712788 ) <rsmith29&alumni,nd,edu> on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:43PM (#10747562) Homepage
    So no more returning cable modem and WAP boxes filled with rocks? Alright, back to the drawing board. Geek's gotta get himself through college...
  • by bs_02_06_02 ( 670476 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:49PM (#10747600)
    We live in a free economy. If you don't like it, don't shop there. If you got screwed, camp out and make sure you let the store manager and each and every employee know that you'll spread your bad stories across the country.

    My mom worked in an interior design supply store, and she'd have customers come in on Friday, outfit their living room, and then on Monday, return everything. She knew what they were doing. But the owner of the store was unwilling to put a stop to it. The store went under after a few years.

    How would you like to lose your job because of this? Do you blame the store? Do you call your Senator? No. I think you do your best to deter "bad" customers.

    What they need to do is, for those frequent shoppers like the woman mentioned in the newspaper article (I did read the article), so that they see that she's a valued customer.

    These businesses are focused on removing the bad WITHOUT retaining their valued customers.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:52PM (#10747619)
    (Don't do this. Don't do this. Don't do this.)

    In case you've been wronged by a retailer don't do this:

    Leave an egg salad sandwich someplace that can only be traced by smell.

    If they sell electronics find a dvd player that's powering a big screen tv. Make your own dvd with about 30 minutes of landscapes followed by a snuff film. Insert disk and leave. This works well for boomboxes and car audio sections too, just have 30 minutes of silence followed by an audio grab from the Spice channel.

    Spread pro-union leaflets around the store.

    Say the store has three widgets on the shelf and you know it's the kind of place that doesn't keep inventory in the back just move the three items, ask the sales drones you want one and make them play "hide and seek".

    Wear a flashing IR LED while shopping. Invisible to the naked eye but will freak out security when they see it on their monitors. If they hassle you tell them it's for nighttime hiking and you forgot it was on.

    Be creative!

    • Re:Monkey Warfare (Score:3, Interesting)

      by pherris ( 314792 )
      Leave an egg salad sandwich someplace that can only be traced by smell.

      I once worked at a large office where it was suspected a former employee placed about a dozen eggs in different places in the duct work. It seems after sitting there for a few days they finally cracked and release their nasty payload. The smell got into everything. They had an outside company come in, scrub down every inch of duct work and clean the chairs, carpet, couches, etc.

      We also had a problem with employees dropping straight

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 07, 2004 @02:57PM (#10747653)
    A friend of mine manages a Home Depot - every year - I kid you not - they get christmas trees returned in January.
  • by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @03:08PM (#10747700) Homepage
    People would have a shit fit if the government was assembling a detailed dossier on every American citizen. But when the government buys the data from private companies doing the same thing and aggregates it, no one has a problem with that.

    The real concern isn't this little system or that little system, it's the accumulated weight of information contained in all of them. Zero regulation about who collects it, how long and what it's used for.

    "Well now, Mr. Anderson, I see here you returned a pair of size 38 pants this week. Two years ago you returned a pair of size 32 pants. We have a certain image to maintain at this organization and expect our employees to reflect that image, Porky- I mean Mr. Anderson."

    That may sound hokey, but I bet it's closer to the mark than most people would feel comfortable admitting. It's not the routine uses that scare me, it's the routine abuses. And those are getting worse.

  • by gone.fishing ( 213219 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @03:23PM (#10747780) Journal
    I don't think I have too much of an objection to this, I only return a couple of things a year and don't believe that I will rise to the level of "bad customer" based on that. I think most of us fall into that category.

    There are many things that cost business and each and every one of those costs is passed on to their customers. With few exceptions a company exists to provide profit to it's investors, it does not exist simply to provide a service to customers. So, as a customer, I am all for a company finding ways to operate cheaper (perhaps some of those savings will be passed on to me).

    I hope the database taps in to criminal records, so that it declines returns to people who have been convicted of shoplifting, fraud, bad checks and that sort of thing. Those are the people most likely to be committing some sort of return fraud.

    Now, having said all of these things about why I think this is a good idea, I'll tell you what I think concerns me.

    I think people have a right to know that their return information is going to be entered into a database that may be used against them. This should be done at the time of purchase so people will have that moment to make a buy/don't buy decision. They should be reminded of this before the return is processed. They should also be informed before they make any other decision that the business may enter into the database.

    People should have the right to respond to the information contained in the database and allowed to provide their own explaination.

    Gift returns should probably be handled a little differently (they should still count though).

    The "statute of limitations" for non-criminal information in the database should not be excessive (perhaps a year). The fact that you returned a few too many things should not haunt you forever.

    Proof of identification should be required for any action that makes it into the database. That way John Smith #1 and John Smith #2 won't be confused. This proof should not be tied to a person's social security number. Soundex information should not be used. The guiding principal should be that if the information is not absolute it should not be held against an individual.

    The database should not be the sole deciding factor. If the database declines a return, a manager should make the actual decision after listening to the customer.

    The information in the database should remain independant of credit information and should be considered somewhat private and not used for other purposes.

    Stores who participate in this system should post notices on their door (just like they do for Visa and other credit cards).

    Things like faulty or spoiled products should never be held against a customer. Obviously these kinds of returns should never be entered in the database.

    Customers should be able to know what their "score" is and what their information contains. This should be provided for free and should be automatic in the event of a decline.

  • by Talonius ( 97106 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @03:46PM (#10747937)
    I start screaming while I throw shit at the cashier and manager who can't do anything but listen to a fucking computer.


    When are people going to learn that policies and rules are not meant to be zero tolerant? The increasing computerization of our society means everyone of us is being pigeonholed into a specific, discrete category with no ability to escape that categorization. Instead, we're forced to "bear" these types of bullshit.

    And we, as a society, complain when we aren't allowed to have responsibility or power. Yes, they go hand in hand. We don't trust our teachers to make decisions regarding the promotion or demotion of a student, so we provide them with a hard rule that can't be bent. We don't trust our managers of our stores to ensure they're profitable so we make all the decisions for them, despite the fact that the local situation is better comprehended by a local manager who is competent.

    And in all of these situations where we don't allow decisions to be made we place individuals who are braindead and incapable of making those decisions when the systems break. What happens post Christmas when the return system breaks? Do you send everyone away, afraid that you might be letting someone get away with a $30 theft? To protect your $30.00 you're denying hundreds of legitimate customers their money?


    You can cart me out screaming and hollering and sue me for abuse. I'm getting tired of the system, and I intend to start fighting back. This is all bullshit. I'm no stranger to being tossed out from stores, or from screaming at the top of my lungs about what a dipshit someone is, so this is just another fucking cherry on the top of the sundae.
  • What a hypocrite! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rick Zeman ( 15628 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @03:49PM (#10747954)
    Customers avoid intrusive practices; although this story was written by the Washington Post and I have the URL to the original story available, I declined to link to washingtonpost.com because of their intrusive registration.

    That's morally no different than someone buying an outfit, wearing it and returning it for credit (or not, in this case). You have no problem with leeching their content for free. As registrations go, the Post's is pretty benign.

    What kind of data mining are they going to do? Someone as paranoid^h^h^h^h^hcautious are you could surely be clever enough to make something up? But even that's halfway sleazy (vs your total sleaziness).

    The Post isn't a charity, sweetheart. Neither is any other online newspaper. If you don't like the fact that there's some minimal price to be paid either remain (more) ignorant or get off your ass and pay the $1.50 for the Sunday paper.
  • by karlandtanya ( 601084 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @03:58PM (#10748013)
    A purchase is a contract. If a purchase is anything other than an "as-is" cash sale (warranties, returns policies, financing agreements, etc.), both parties should have a copy of the terms of the purchase (the contract). In retail, this is typically a returns policy and a warranty.

    If it's a $0.59 piece of gum, it's kind of silly. But if you're buying a $2,000 plasma TV (saw one at Wal-Mart yesterday), it might be worth your effort to collect this documentation before you part with your money.

    Read and understand any contract before you enter into it. Again, this will probably be the returns policy and warranty. If you don't like the contract, don't enter into it. It is generally not a good idea to modify the contract in these instances. It may be technically legal, but you probably don't want to go to court over it. If the policy is unacceptable to you, shop somewhere else.

    Pay with Visa. Other credit cards may offer similar purchase protection; this is not a Visa ad. It happens that I use Visa, and have had to use this process a couple of times in the past fifteen years. It has worked for me every time.

    If the vendor refuses to honor the terms of the sale (e.g. won't take a return that the policy says he should), document what happened.

    Do not get angry or belligerent. Do not try to "make them pay", "get even", or make the vendor lose face. Just make a sincere attempt act under the terms of the contract.

    Document what you did. Document what the merchant did. Do this immediately, while it's fresh in your mind.

    Tell the truth. Lying to get something for nothing is fraud, and you're deliberately creating a paper trail here. If you're wrong, deal with it. Don't try to scam the system.

    Contest the charge with Visa. You will need to provide documentation showing:

    The terms of the sale (the documented contract, consisting of copies of all policies, receipts, whatever you agreed to). That's the stuff that's written down at the time of the sale! "I remember the salesman told me I could bring it back" is not documentation.

    Specifically how the merchant did not comply with the terms of the sale.

    The fact that you made a good faith attempt to resolve the issue with the merchant.

    Your statement that the following charges (here you specify the items on your Visa bill) are erroneous, fraudulent, not owed, or whatever the case might be.

    If it's a return that was refused, you may also indicate that you will retain the item for a reasonable time period during which the vendor may arrange to pick it up. After that, you will dispose of it as you see fit. This is not necessary, but will help support your case that you're not trying to scam the merchant.

    Do this within the time limit specified by Visa for contesting of charges. Typically 60 days from close of statement on which the purchase was made.

    Works for me. Haven't had to do it too many times, but every time, Visa has refunded the charges.

    Most recently, with the Sprint store.

    If you're going to try to scam the vendor, you're not going to have any luck for very long. You will lose credibility with Visa (or whoever you use) if you contest charges every week. That's because you're trying to cheat the vendor.

    If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Don't even bother to read the contract if you think you're going to get something for nothing. You're not. Just leave. Or your own greed will get you.

    And just because it seems to piss off some people around here, I'll repeat the same wisdom my father told me:

    You can't cheat an honest man.

  • There's a simple reason: credit card fees. Merchants pay a percentage of every transaction paid via plastic to the credit card companies. If an item is returned and they refund the card, not only do they not get that fee back, they have to pay another tithe to the credit card company when they process the refund. If someone buys a $2000 item and then returns it, the merchant might be out $70 berore you even account for any labor or restocking costs.

    There's a valid question of what constitutes excessive. That's done on a case by case basis. When we do draw the line, we accept that one last return and then say, "OK buddy, we're cutting you off."

  • No Sympathy. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wrathcretin ( 693632 ) on Sunday November 07, 2004 @06:20PM (#10749120)
    If Best Buy complains that people buy only loss leading items, how bout this for an idea? Don't sell them unconditionally at that price! The local pizza joint will sell you 2 small all dressed, a fry and a coke for less than if you bought them individually, so why won't Best Buy give you something like 15$ of a pack of DVD-R if you buy the burner instead of selling the DVD-R's so cheap?

    That, and we're consuming far too much. Nobody can resist a sale anymore, we all think we "need" the crap we buy and we honestly believe we're "saving" money by purchasing things on sale. Stores take advantage through advertising to you how bad you need to buy something as well as presenting their product in very favorable ways.
    Thats fine, its business, but they push it to the point of having mirrors that make you look thinner in that dress.

    So I can't really say I sympathize with the person who impulse buys stuff and realizes they don't need or want it, but I can't sympathize with a retailer who will sink to any depth to get you to buy it either.
    Besides, no retailer can in good faith refuse a first time customer based on the return rejection system they have, so everybody has a chance to learn before they screw up and keep buying solar powered flashlights and black hiliters.

    That, and if a product is returned just because its not wanted - big screen for the superbowl or clothes, charge a restocking fee! Radio Shack here in canada does. I think its printed on the bill, and i have no problem only getting 90% of my money back from radio shack if I'm going to put the store through the trouble of fucking around with receipts, new package, price tag, etc.
    (Especially when i buy a little odd or end that works and return the broken one in the same package.)

    Anyone who gets denied a refund based on that system probably deserves to be denied...if not the time they got denied, then from another time that would set the system off in the first place.

    Sure, I don't like having my information gathered, i generally deny to give a supermarket my postal code, even though its just to keep track of flyers, and i usually give the name George Bush and my address as being 1600 Pennsylvaia avenue when they do ask.

    I think we're all in agreement that we should vote with our wallets.
  • by saikou ( 211301 ) on Monday November 08, 2004 @01:45AM (#10752134) Homepage
    To REFUSE business of such customers. If system knows Mrs ForgetMyWardrobe has 53% chance to return what she tries to buy, DO NOT SELL IT TO HER. Explain why, say how sorry you are, escort her off. Store can refuse selling to anyone -- that's their right. But this situation is way more honest, than trying to sell something to the customer and then refuse taking it back, even though you claim you would.

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus