Trying on the dress: ‘Buying’ an outfit to wear to a party then returning it is dishonest. *iStock photo
Trying on the dress: ‘Buying’ an outfit to wear to a party then returning it is dishonest. *iStock photo

I remember when I was in my late teens (Yes, I can remember that far back), it was not uncommon for women to buy an expensive dress for a Friday night party, keep the tags in it, wear it to the party and then return it the next day for their money back. I was appalled. To me, this was so dishonest, not to mention very risky.

I was surprised to read recently that this practice still continues. In fact the National Retail Federation estimated that this cost the industry $8.8 billion in 2012.

Last September, Bloomberg News reported that the American department-store chain, Bloomingdales, took bold steps to combat this practice, known as “wardrobing”, by keeping some garments tagged after they’re sold. The three-inch black plastic devices are attached in highly visible places, like the front bottom hemline, so they’re hard to hide when the garment is worn. Once shoppers remove the tags, which can’t be reattached, they can’t return the item.

We don’t have evidence to support that this practice of “wardrobing” is prevalent in Bermuda. However, we have seen other examples of unethical consumer behaviour.

Examples of unethical consumer behaviour reported to Consumer Affairs include:

People impersonating Consumer Affairs personnel in a bid to deceive businesses into refunding money;

Switching clothing set sizes so that the top is one size and the bottom another;

Switching price tags so that items are marked as cheaper than they should be;

Tampering with a product so as to report it as faulty to gain a refund.

Combating unethical consumer behaviour can be tricky.  

Businesses must come up with ways of reducing any losses resulting from dishonest customers but at the same time there is need to ensure that the level of customer service is not compromised.

Obviously, installing cameras and hiring good security personnel is a deterrent to consumer theft and fraud and can help minimize your losses.

While you are focusing on security measures consider other ways you can take to enhance your customer service; the experience your customers have in your business and the relationship you can forge with them. The essence of good customer service is customer loyalty.

High customer loyalty is a great marketing tool — customers will love you and stay with you, tell their friends about you and it also reduces unethical consumer behaviour because customers who consider themselves as having a relationship with a business are less likely to shoplift or engage in other unethical acts.  

Pay close attention to the experience every customer has while doing business with you. Be genuine, consistent and give them personalised service that exceeds what you would expect to receive as a customer.

At Consumer Affairs, we offer advice to consumers, businesses and other organizations. If we receive a complaint and believe that a violation of the law has occurred, we present the complaint to the business and request its assistance in resolving the problem. Most businesses are happy to work with us. 

Before contacting us we recommend that you first visit our web-site, www.ca.gov.bm and read the relevant advice. If you are unable to find the information you require on our web-site please email us at consumers@gov.bm

Honey Adams Bell is the education officer for Consumer Affairs.