The term ‘wardrobing’ is a little like friendly fire – a lot more dangerous than it sounds. Neither is harmless and cuddly.

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We’ve written about this issue on Retail Insider before (link to article from Nov) and it is a problem that hits all retailers, but especially those selling via catalogue or online, as they have to stand the cost of postage and customers avoid any potential embarrassment of dealing face-to-face with store staff.

Richard Cottrell, sales and marketing director at Vista Retail Support has been looking into the problem of returns in general and says they’ve been around for decades of course and in the case of retailers such as Marks & Spencer and many others like them, they have come to accept it as a part of the cost of trading.

The growth of social networking more recently has made this problem worse, as publicly posting what one wore at a party or wedding on Facebook, say, has increased the pressure on many to think, “I can’t wear that again”, with the resulting temptation to return it to the seller.

Yet in dealing with this growing abuse retailers must now also weigh up the potential risk of a bad review if they refuse to pay up.

Cottrell reckons this is not acceptable and doesn’t have to be seen as inevitable. Retailers are starting to fight back in the war on wardrobing, with a range of different counter-measures. Some, for example, have responded by introducing much stricter returns policies, while others have put up prices to cover losses, which impacts the majority of customers who only return products if they have a legitimate reason.

Technology can also play a key role here of course. Many of the ‘wardrobers’ surveyed recently by Vouchercodes.co.uk confirmed that they specifically look for clothes with labels and safety pin tags that can easily be removed and re-attached.

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Relying on big tags

US fashion chain Bloomingdales has tackled this issue head-on by attaching large, highly visible tags to items over $150, which makes it all but impossible to hide when wearing or subsequently re-attach and refusing to provide a refund without them.

Recent evidence is that the problem is no longer restricted to clothing but is expanding into other high-value product areas such as electronics and computing.

Cottrell believes the question is simple: if some purchasers walk away because as a retailer you have made wardrobing much more difficult, were they ever of any real value to you as customers? He also reckons the answer is equally simple: ‘no’.

Wardrobing is only one part of the returns headache of course and contributes to the logistical challenge that retailers now face as they increasingly develop their multi-channel capabilities. Maybe some answers to the returns conundrum will be found at The Delivery Conference in February. We can all hope.