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You Can Be Banned from Making Returns at Best Buy

by on March 19, 2018
in Shopping, News, Blog :: 14 comments

Best Buy's return policy says most products can be returned within 15 days for a refund or exchange, but the company doesn't always follow its own policy. The problem is return fraud, where a customer might return a used or even stolen item for a refund, abusing a retailer's return policies — a problem that affects 11% of all returns. Some companies handle fraud by curtailing their return policies: L.L. Bean is a notable recent example. The store, which has long offered a generous "no questions asked" return policy, had to drop the policy to prevent shoppers from using it as a lifetime product replacement program.

Best Buy found an answer to return fraud in a third party company called The Retail Equation, which analyzes return behavior to detect fraud. Whenever you return an item, TRE's algorithms go to work to see if it's likely that you're abusing the return program. If the algorithm thinks you're a risk, your return may be denied — or you could be barred from returning items in the future, no matter what the return policy says.

Sometimes that's a problem even for legitimate customers. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, a California man found himself banned from making returns at Best Buy for a year after he tried to return three cell phone cases. He bought cases in several colors as gifts for his kids, assuming he could return the unwanted colors within Best Buy's return window — but his return was red flagged by The Retail Equation. When he asked about the problem, Best Buy referred him to TRE, but he didn't get satisfaction. He's not the only one: unhappy customers have been taking to Yelp to complain about TRE denying their returns and then giving them the run-around when they complain.

The problem with the "shadow" return policy enforced by TRE is that no one knows what it is. TRE won't tell you why your account is flagged or under what conditions it could be flagged. But the Wall Street Journal identified seven things that could impact your chances of being flagged:

  1. making too many returns in a short timeframe
  2. returning items without a receipt
  3. returning items that are often stolen
  4. returning items after a certain period of time
  5. returning items at store closing time
  6. returning high-value items
  7. returning a large percentage of your total purchases

Shoppers don't realize their information is being shared or know how it's being used — and once TRE decides to flag you, you may not be able to get unflagged. That usually means no more returns at your favorite stores.

The Retail Equation is used by 34,000 stores nationwide, including Best Buy, CVS, Dick's Sporting Goods, Home Depot, JCPenny, Sephora and Victoria's Secret. Each store uses the service differently — for example, Home Depot only uses it for returns without a receipt — and each may have a different policy about banning returns. Despite posted return policies, any store using The Retail Equation could deny your returns without explanation.

Best Buy has responded to the controversy by opening a hotline to call if your return has been denied. While that's more helpful than being told to call TRE, it's still a frustrating extra phone call to make after you've already been to the store to make a return. If you feel your return at Best Buy has been denied without cause, you can call them at 866-764-6979 to (hopefully) sort things out.

In the meanwhile, be sure you're familiar with a store's return policies before you buy. They give you an idea of what to expect. And if you can, try to avoid returns that may look suspicious to The Retail Equation's algorithms, such as returns without receipts. That's still no guarantee your return won't be denied, but it may help.

[Image credit: Best Buy store via BigStockPhoto]

Discussion loading


Makes sense to me

From Mike on March 19, 2018 :: 10:46 am

If you’re going to something like Mr. California did and buy a bunch of stuff you KNOW you’re going to return - KEEP THE RECIEPT.  If you have the receipt, the company SHOULD allow a full refund - except for the last item on the WSJ list - appears to be just sound business sense.



No much of a hassle

From John W on March 19, 2018 :: 12:44 pm

I think I will just avoid the mess and shop elsewhere.



The fraud exists

From Nancy on March 22, 2018 :: 12:21 pm

I purchased a bulk shipment of returns and closeouts to sell on eBay a year ago. One thing that was included was about 20 sticks of RAM that had been returned to Staples as defective. However, when I looked at them, it was apparent that their return clerks don’t know anything about RAM. The packages were mostly for well-known brands of RAM, but what was actually in the package did not match… People were upgrading their RAM and then returning their castoffs, e.g., an off-brand 256mb stick was in a good brand 1gb package. So the people were getting free RAM because the clerks don’t know how to catch the fraud.  Maybe that’s one reason Staples has financial issues and closed a bunch of stores.




From Theateran on March 23, 2018 :: 3:55 am

You will certainly be need to enter your id and  fill all the information in the enrollment kind and also you have actually done.



It's a hoax how Best Buy pretends to wash its hands

From Old Poor Richard on May 27, 2018 :: 10:35 pm

These rules are set by Best Buy.  TRE isn’t some shadowy and independent company that Best Buy has no control over.  Best Buy writes the rules and TRE is simply a subcontractor that implements them.  None of those seven triggers listed is any indication of fraud.  The only “abusive” practice is return of expensive items which you’ve already used.  This can be cured by simply charging a restocking fee for all electronics that are opened.



Small Claims Court

From Donald L. Parrot on August 16, 2018 :: 4:12 pm

I had purchased four laptop/tablet computers and each one had a fatal flaw.  When I tried to return the last one, it was denied.  I am now filing a claim in small claims court.  Part of my argument is that this flagging practice is not described anywhere on the Best Buy website or the receipt.  We’ll see what happens in court.  Wish me luck!



Good luck!

From Josh Kirschner on August 17, 2018 :: 8:34 am

If everyone who was denied a legitimate claim took Best Buy to court, maybe these poorly/undisclosed return policies would go away. Let us know how it goes.



OK Josh. I am

From Donald L. Parrot on August 17, 2018 :: 1:43 pm

OK Josh.  I am filing on Monday.  It will probably be scheduled for mid-September.  The court requires a pre-hearing arbitration and 75% of the time, it is resolved at that level.




From Jean on October 22, 2018 :: 2:38 pm

Bought ipad never opened tried to return within 14 day time period with receipt they refused gave the tpc phone last bought item in JAn 2018.
any corporate phones to call



Best Buy Update

From Donald L Parrot on October 25, 2018 :: 9:00 am

Yesterday, I had my small claims court date for my case against Best Buy.  The judge asked us to mediate and we tried.  I asked for full reimbursement of the computer cost plus tax and reimbursement for the $132 in filing/service fees I incurred.  The Best Buy rep was the sales manager for the Parker, CO store.  He refused to include the $132 reimbursement, so we went back before the judge.

A number of interesting comments/questions ensued.  But it can best be summed up when the judge said, ” So let me get this straight.  If I buy three items over a month or so and return them, I will get blacklisted and cannot return any future items?”  The Best Buy rep responded that the decision is beyond Best Buy’s control since it is made by a third party.  The judge wasn’t buying that.  The judge also noted that Best Buy’s published return policies do not describe this 3 strikes and out policy and the Best Buy rep agreed.

The judge then found in my favor and ordered Best Buy to fully reimburse me (including legal costs) within 5 days.  I will then return the computer.

Please spread the word any way you can (email, facebook, twitter, etc.) about Best Buy’s 3 strikes policy.  The only way for customers to protect themselves is to pay cash and remain anonymous.



That's great news

From Josh Kirschner on October 25, 2018 :: 1:02 pm

Glad you were able to get a refund AND get your legal costs covered. Would love to hear from other readers who have gone this route and how they fared.



good to know

From rich lewis on October 26, 2018 :: 12:28 pm

I was banned after 3 returns too with a receipt on my last return saying that you will not be able to return anything after this. i wonder how long this ban lasts for though



Can we ban together

From Jan on December 19, 2018 :: 11:36 am

Can we all ban together and sue the company? What for keeping our information in a data base and using it against us. TRE should be out of business for following people and keeping their personal information without consent. And the big corporations should be sued for participating in a form of discrimination. Since it is hidden as to why you are denied. It’s not like a credit report that you are able to see. No checks and balances. And even if they say we consent a report should be given and knowledge how to get that and why should be given with denials. Otherwise all forms of discrimination could be used against you and never know. Why. You won this case but it would be nice to stop this all together.



According to Elizabeth Harper's

From Donald L Parrot on October 26, 2018 :: 1:03 pm

According to Elizabeth Harper’s article (above, quoting from the Wall Street Journal), one year.


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