Merchants Keep Lists of Who Returns Items Too Much

She returned a gift she received, unsure where it was purchased, and wound up banned from returning anything to the retailer for a year.

(Published Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2017)

If you’re giving or getting presents for this holiday, chances are something will end up getting returned, but some shoppers have reported they were banned from the return line.

Vina Le found herself in that situation earlier this year.

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“My friend had given me a bottle of perfume for my birthday,” Vina said, “And the one she gave me is actually the one I’m allergic to.”

Vina said she spends hundreds of dollars every year at her favorite cosmetic store, Sephora. But when her friend gave her the bottle of Miss Dior, the perfume she’s allergic to, Vina decided to take it to Sephora for a possible return. Vina said she didn’t know what store the bottle actually came from.

“I told them if you can return this, that’s great,” Vina said, “If you can’t, that’s ok too.”

Vina said when the Sephora cashier scanned the bottle and typed in Vina’s information into their system, Vina was told the return was denied.

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“The cashier was polite, she handed me the receipt and said to go ahead and call,” Vina said, “Maybe it’s just a minor typo issue and they can talk to you about it.”

Vina said the number the cashier gave her to call was for The Retail Equation, a nationwide company that keeps track of returns for a variety of retailers, including Sephora.

“The first words out of their mouth were ‘you are banned from returning anything to Sephora for a year,’” Vina said.

Vina said The Retail Equation told her she had too many returns but Vina thought that was unfair since she had spent over $575 at Sephora this year and returned only $32 worth of merchandise. In 2015 and 2016, Vina said she had no returns.

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“It made me feel like I was a thief or something because the way The Retail Equation basically phrased it was I was a habitual returner,” Vina said.

When Vina couldn’t get the problem solved, she called NBC Responds for help.

NBC Responds reached out to both Sephora and The Retail Equation. Both did not answer our specific questions about Vina’s account but instead, offered insight into how they monitor returns in general.

A spokesperson for The Retail Equation told us, “Our return authorization system is designed to identify the 1 percent of consumers whose behaviors mimic return fraud or abuse…”

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The company also added retail fraud accounted for billions of dollars in retail losses last year. To read The Retail Equation’s full statement, click here.

After reviewing Vina’s case, Sephora told NBC Responds Vina is no longer banned from making returns and the store would contact her directly about the bottle of perfume she had originally tried to return.

Vina told NBC Responds last weekend, a Sephora representative offered her a $100 gift card to the cosmetic store.

A spokesperson for Sephora told NBC Responds, “Sephora values each and every one of its clients and strives to provide exceptional customer service at all times, including returns and exchanges. Our policy is on par with other national retailers, and we encourage all our clients to keep in mind our returns policy, including proof of purchase, when requesting a refund if they are not fully satisfied with a product. We can confirm that the client is not banned on returns in general, and have reached out to her to discuss her most recent return request inquiry. Sephora encourages clients to accept email receipts for all store purchases, to make exchanges and returns swift and easy. Also, if you are giving a gift, ensure you get a gift receipt to accompany your present, just in case they get multiples of the same item, or decide to get something else.”

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