Imagine that you just bought something at a store only to get home and realize that you already had another one just like it. Imagine now that you go to the store to simply return the item. Not only does the store clerk ask for your receipt, but they also ask for your ID. They then proceed to tell you that you are unable to make any returns. You are completely surprised and taken aback by this. What is going on?
The Retail Equation
What is happening is, a third party company is monitoring all of your returns at that specific retailer. Several retailers use a certain third party company out of California called The Retail Equation (TRE) to monitor their customers’ returns. If TRE believes that a particular customer’s return activity is “abusive” they will notify the store and the store can decide whether or not to deny any returns or just give the customer a “warning”.
The Retail Equation (TRE) is hired by various retailers to keep track of customers’ return behaviors. From these behaviors, TRE has developed a “risk score” based on a customer’s return activity.
Some of the types of returns that can put up red flags for your return profile are (in no particular order):
- Returning an item just as a store is closing;
- Returning too many items in a short period of time;
- Returning an item after a certain period;
- Returning items that tend to get stolen at the retailer;
- Returning an item without a receipt;
- Returning a high dollar amount;
- Returning a large percentage of your total purchases.
Collecting Personal Data
According to TRE, their system does not “blacklist” consumers and they do not share information between retailers. They say the majority of consumers will not be affected since these behaviors only represent 1% of consumers.
That got me thinking. If it only affects 1% of consumers, why are they collecting 99% of the consumers identifying information?
This identifying information includes identification number, name, address, date of birth, and expiration date (of ID). This is personal information that is sitting in a database that could easily be breached, even though they say they have the data stored in a “state of the art, secure data center”. With data breaches happening so often these days, if my data doesn’t need to be stored somewhere, then it shouldn’t be.
If this is a problem with only 1% of consumers, then why are retailers using this for the other 99% of their customers. Doesn’t this build distrust among customers?
Retailers With Excellent Return Policies
A retailer who doesn’t need such a policy and does great business is Costco. They will take back just about anything. Of course, there are those 1% of customers who will abuse the policy, but that is to be expected and unfortunately, no matter which retailer it is, we all pay for those 1% of returns. By allowing customers to return with little exceptions, Costco builds trust with their customers, something other retailers could learn a lot from.
Aldi is another retailer with an excellent return policy. On all their branded food products, they have a “Double Guarantee”. They stand behind their food products so much that, if for any reason, a consumer is not satisfied 100% with an Aldi food product, they will replace the product AND refund the customer’s money. For all other products, they have a very reasonable return policy as well and they do not use a third party to monitor returns.
There clearly is a contrast of retailers here. Ones that obviously value customer loyalty through providing excellent products and wonderful customer service, and those who are looking only at the bottom line. Where would you rather shop?
What You Can Do
If you’d like to find out if TRE has any information on you, you can contact them by sending them an e-mail at ReturnActivityReport@TheRetailEquation.com or a letter to The Retail Equation, P.O. Box 51373, Irvine, CA 92619-1373 USA. Requests need to include your name and a phone number where they can contact you. When they call you, they will ask for your driver’s license number and state. This information will help them search for your information.
Have you had any negative return experiences with retailers? Better yet, what about positive return experiences? I’d love to hear all about them in the comments section below!
I am dedicated to helping my readers save money any way they can. You might be interested in reading some of my other money saving articles.
- The One Costco Secret You Must Know
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- 10 Easy Ways To Save Money
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