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February 28, 2008


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I don't know if this counts but I took advantage of a promotion Circuit City was doing. I bought Call of Duty 4 and Call of Duty 3 together. They offered COD4 for $59.99 and you got COD3 for free. I bought this knowing I would return COD3 for credit towards another game. However...

1. I didn't open the game.
2. It was free.
3. I was going to buy COD4 anyway.

I've never wardrobed, but I worked at a retail store as a teenager and picked up returns for my department. One time, the returns counter took back a MAGAZINE from about 3 months previous. I couldn't believe it! Who returns a magazine? And an old one to boot? I also couldn't believe that the store actually accepted the return. Pure craziness!

I agree that it would be really unfortunate if wardrobing causes problems for people who legitimately want to return an item. :(

A lot of college students participate in this practice. On particular guy did it all the time. The month before school started he would buy a whole bunch of larger ticket items at Walmarts(phones, wireless router, lamps, video game systems and games). He bought a few each weekend and made a calendar of when they needed to be returned. He would return the item 60 days after he bought it then go purchase a replacement and return it 60 days later.
He got his roommate to split the cost of many of the items. His roommate found out at the end of the year when the kid returned his money.
The practice is unethical.

blatant dishonesty. There is no way around it.

It's like stealing someone's car...using it for a couple hours to run errands...then bringing it back to where you found it. Because, harm done...right?!?!? (albiet on a bigger scale)

It is lying...and slimy.

I've never done it either, and while I don't have much love for big-box electronic stores, like you think it's dishonest and a bit distasteful. I agree that it may impact return policies for the rest of us, and wear and tear on "wardrobed" items is no doubt also factored into the prices the rest of us are paying.

It's not honest. WWJD

I've never done this and I don't think I ever will.

I have heard, however, that this is surprisingly common with big screen TVs. In fact, I've been told that if you want to get a great deal on a new 50" plasma screen, the best time to do it is during the month following the superbowl. It shouldn't be too hard to find an open-box sale.

I totally disagree. The game has rules, and if you play by the rules of the game, you are not being dishonest (unless of course you actually attempt to deceive someone in the process).

Buying things and returing them, in compliance with store policy and all applicable laws, is perfectly ethical. If they don't like that people are doing this, they're free to change their return policies.

Likewise, using the "grocery game" website and double coupon days means that you could get lots of groceries almost for free, and every grocery store you visit could lose money every time you visit them. This is also perfectly ethical, and if they don't like it they can change their rules.

If a store has a policy that if you buy a $50 gift card, you can have a $10 coupon off your next purchase, there's nothing unethical about buying yourself a gift card to get the discount, even though the store clearly intends for their policy to promote giftcarding other people.

It's also not unethical to take advantage of "0% balance transfer" offers from credit cards. They clearly want you to still have a balance at the end of the offer period so that they can make money, but if you pay off your credit card within that window you've gotten a great deal and the CC company has lost money. This is a great analogy to the returns policy at most stores. In both cases there is a window where you don't owe the company anything, but if you allow that window to expire you're out of luck.

Why am I defending this practice? Is it because I do it and I'm trying to rationalize my selfish behavior? No. I don't do this, ever. Why? Because I guarantee you that I would lose receipts, or forget to return something, or I'd break or damage an item, and I'd be out of luck. I am a forgetful, disorganized procrastinator, not the type that gets much profit from store return policies, 0% offers, coupons, etc. But they're all analogous to eachother. All of them are situations where a consumer who plays by all the rules can benefit while the company that set the rules loses money on the transaction, but if the consumer doesn't pay close attention to the rules they can get burned. Companies use these strategies and other "loss leaders" and perks to attract customers like the cheese on a mousetrap. Most mice get caught in the trap, but it's not dishonest to grab the cheese without setting off the trap, if you can pull that off.

I agree that its not honest and I believe that in the long run it will hurt people not practicing this by stores implementing strict return policies.

Maybe if there wasn't 400% mark ups on some items it wouldn't be happening? However, I do understand basic economics of supply and demand, so if people are going to buy things marked up 400%, then why should the stores lower it.

You bring up good points Jake!

Wow, never heard a name for it before. "Wardrobed" seems like an odd name, but I guess it refers to the age old practice of buying fancy party dresses, leaving the tags on, and returning them? I think it's always been known that that was dishonest, or at least, I have always thought that. On the other hand, I can remember as a teen my grandmother was looking at a Saturn shortly before she had to take a long trip, and the salesman actually encouraged her to buy the car and use it on the trip. Saturn (at the time) had a no questions asked 30 days return policy, and he said that he would advise buying the car just to use it on the trip and return it if she didn't like it. She didn't do that (and rented a car for the journey), of course, and it still seems dishonest for the salesperson even to have suggested it.

On the other hand, I recently purchased a computer mouse in December and began using it. It had a rebate and I put it off with my other after Christmas rebates. When I took the rebate out to send it in, I discovered that the rebate had to be postmarked within 14 days of purchase (before Christmas). So, I took the mouse back in January and bought another one with a rebate that made it a little cheaper than the original. I still don't know whether I think returning that mouse was unethical or not. The mouse and packaging was identical and just as resaleable as a mouse that had been opened and returned after deciding that it just wasn't the right mouse.

I do know however, that I don't want "wardrobers" to ruin return policies for the rest of us. I know department stores and electronics stores have already implemented some policies to cut down on this. For instance, even several years ago, CompUSA (now out of business) and BestBuy implemented policies that any TV bought in January or early February had a last return date of the day before the Super Bowl so that no one could just buy one as a rental. Also, at places like JC Penney, I know they have either 0 return policies or like item exchange only policies on prom dresses in the spring in order to cut down on post-prom returns.

And to the anon person who got COD3 to return it for credit, I know that I think that is dishonest.

It's okay if retailers cancel the return policy altogether, consumers will simply think hard and compare price before buying anything. The ultimate loser? The retailers.

I can see the temptation to do it, especially if money is tight, but I could never do it personally.

I think you can even analogize the effect wardrobing has on return policies AND STORE PRICES OVERALL to a state welfare system. Welfare checks, like returns, are available to those who really need them. But then you get people who want to abuse the system -- fake disability, avoid work intentionally, or wardrobe -- and the rest of us pay more, either in taxes, or in the stores.

Jake: "Maybe if there wasn't 400% mark ups on some items it wouldn't be happening? However, I do understand basic economics of supply and demand, so if people are going to buy things marked up 400%, then why should the stores lower it."

Jake, you're way off base there.

First of all, the vast majority of items at retail have nowhere near a 400% markup. Things that might, like clothing, have that kind of price attached to them because of the cost of bringing those clothes to market, carrying the inventory, damage, etc.

It's interesting - you can look at companies with all sorts of different average markups on their goods, but despite the differences, the final operating profit is almost identical, always.

For example, a software company that makes a 72% gross profit margin on average (about a 300% markup from cost) has roughly the same operating profit at the bottom of their balance sheet as a grocery store chain that maybe only makes a 20% gross profit margin.

The costs of doing business in various industries is what dictates the markup, not just the cost of the good itself. An item's markup has nothing to do with whether Wardrobing is ethical or not. If you think the markup is too high, negotiate.


A quick win-win solution: retailers only give back store credits instead of cash.


You have to remember that legal does not equal ethical. Just because the rules say you can do it, doesn't mean that it's right. When someone ends up costing me a great deal of money through stores raising prices due to increased costs, then it just makes me mad. This isn't a game and treating it like one only hurts everyone else.

Besides that, the comparisons you made are completely false. If a business puts together a promotion to increase sales, they incurring a short-term cost voluntarily in anticipation of long-term gains. When you go out and effectively steal from these companies, you are "making up" your own promotion of which the store is not a voluntary participant. Simply because you are setting the terms of the deal makes it dishonest.


It sounds like the salesman was counting on her buying the car and liking it enough to keep it. It's a valid sales technique with a little bit of risk to the seller. It's a common tactic that if you can get them to say "Yes" once, you can keep them saying "Yes." He knew if she bought it she would be unlikely to return it, even if she wasn't 100% satisfied.

As far as your dilemma goes, my rule of thumb is: If you have to ask yourself if it's unethical, chances are it is and you shouldn't do it.

When I was a kid, my younger brother bought a multi-purpose lawn maintenance thing (rotor-tiller, leaf blower, grass shredder) for his lawn mowing business. It came with a special 90-day money back guarantee if you don't like it. He used it for the summer, making money with it, and was not impressed with the leaf blowing component. After discerning that there was nothing wrong with his unit except that it was poorly designed, he sent it back for the refund.

In my opinion, this was legitimate, because he (1) did not set out to buy the product having premeditated to return it (2) he evaluated the unit and found it to be unsatisfactory (3) he communicated with the company to try to resolve the problem prior to requesting a refund (4) the company encouraged people to try the product first and had a liberal policy toward returns to encourage this (5) the only way to try the product is to use it after you've bought it (i.e. it's not like buying a video game you've already played many times at a friend's house and know you like. In other words, you can't get a feel for a lawn care machine by taking it for a spin in the garden department at Walmart; you need to actually employ it on your lawn.)

I once bought a programmable thermostat. 6 months later, it was malfunctioning, so I bought another new one and put the malfunctioning one in the package and returned it.

Another thought:
How is this different, or is it different than the free trial periods things like credit services ("Free Credit Score! Free Credit Alerts for 30 Days"), gym membership trial periods, music subscription trial periods, getting a credit card just for the first usage bonus, etc. I take advantage of these all the time, with no intention of even considering keeping the services after the trial period.

I am not certain why I feel like that is more honest than buying a portable DVD player, using it for 30 days, and then returning it. I think maybe my problem with the practice of wardrobing is that they use it with no thought of ever keeping it after the return period and the requisite deceit involved; it feels like taking out a loan you have no intention of paying back. For instance, if you used the portable DVD player for 30 days actually considering whether it was what you needed, then that feels much less wrong to me.

That One Caveman:
I agree that that is obviously what the salesman was attempting, but did that make it right to use the car in that manner? If you can get the dealerships implicit permission to defraud them does that make it ethical? Or does that make it a con job? On the other hand, if car salesman were ethical . . .

I like your rule of thumb, but bottom line of the mouse transaction: I feel no guilt or ethical dilemma over it at all. I just like to look at situations like that and decide what I think analytically rather than using gut intuition on ethics. Of course, I loved my college ethics class.

It's very unethical because if this is someones original intention to wardrobe they are costing the store money. Stores don't usually sell returned items at full value.

Matthew, the difference between Wardrobing and "Try it free for 30 Days" promotions is that a return policy wasn't designed as a "try it free for 30 days" promotion.

I'm a believer in following the intent of a law or rule more strictly than its wording, since people can always find exceptions to the wording.

The intent in a return policy is to allow support for products that fail or don't meet the customer's need. If you buy with the intent to keep, but that intent changes because the product doesn't meet your needs for some reason, then you didn't do anything dishonest in returning it.

But buying with the intent to return causes harm to the company, and to other customers for the reasons discussed above. If you're causing harm to others for the benefit of yourself, then it's unethical, in my opinion.

I believe this is unethical and I would never do it. Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's ethical. What it boils down to is you are intentionally hurting others for your own selfish gain. That is always wrong regardless of what the law says.

There's a big difference between "wardrobing" and 0% credit card offers, grocery store coupons, even the Saturn guy's offer to the grandmother - these may incur a loss for the company, but they are consciously taking that risk knowing it's statistically more likely to pay off for them.

A return policy is a service to the customer and almost always has a limited number of reasons you can return something, one of which is not "I was done using it and now I don't need it anymore." There are stores that do provide this type of service, also known as renting. Most return policies specifically prohibit doing this.

This is like when banks used to skim tenths of a cent off transactions, netting them tons of cash for basically no service. That's not a big deal, right? Who's it hurting? While you're at it, why not refute all credit card transactions at restaurants where they didn't ask for your signature? They don't have proof it was you. Hell, just go ahead and steal the DVD. It costs like $0.02 to produce so it's not really hurting anyone.

Matthew and Jake - it's different, because it is premeditated. Another name for it is fraud. Just because the rules allow you to return stuff, it is not right if you purposefully go buy something knowing you're going to return it after you've use it.

Now, if you legitimately buy something and it is not functioning properly, by all means take it back, no matter how long it's been.

I suspect because of this practice that more and more stores will start charging "re-stocking" fees, which in the end will hurt the honest guy out there just trying to return a bad product.

PS - Wardrobing? What a stupid name.

I didn't know that there was a name for this! I've heard of people doing this with electronics (plasma TVs for the superbowl), but didn't realize that there were serial wardrobers out there.

It's completely unethical. It would also be an excellent case study for a B-school business ethics class.

What 'wardrobers' are doing is renting a product without paying any rent. Merchandise squatters make retail products more expensive for honest consumers. Retailers have to recoup the cost somewhere.

I've not done this, and I do think it's immoral, if you go into the initial transaction with every intent to return it after using it. You are pretty much stealing the value of the item, because once you buy it and use it, it becomes an open box item which will (usually) have to sell at a lower price or sent back and turned into a refurb (again, lower price).

It occurs to me that stores should offer such popularly "wardrobed" items for rent, as there is clearly a demand for temporary use of these items. LCD projectors for example are greatly useful, but expensive to buy. This would also seem to provide a positive return on open-box items -- rent those out instead of selling them at a loss.

It's called wardrobing because the most common way to do this is to supplement your wardrobe through "borrowing" clothes for a single wear, then returning them.

It's called wardrobing because the most common way to do this is to supplement your wardrobe through "borrowing" clothes for a single wear, then returning them.

I have never done wardrobing. But one of my cousins bought a dress for a wedding and returned it after the wedding. I was not sure how to react to that. But I don't think I will ever do it myself.

We bought a dishwasher at Sears last year and took the offer of applying for the Sears credit card in order to get a 10% discount on the dishwasher. We fully intended to never use the credit card and cancel the account after a couple of months. We did so and don't feel the least bit guilty.

Years ago there was a period of a couple of years when we ran a balance on our Visa card. About every 6 months we got a new card and transferred the balance to get the low teaser rate (usually 6.9%). We don't feel guilty about that either.

But I wouldn't do the things listed in the original article.

Those who say it's OK because the stores overcharge in the first place are simply saying it's OK to steal from the rich.

And those who say it's OK because the store policy allows it are saying if I leave my front door unlocked it's Ok to steal it from me. You may think I deserve to be stolen from, or that I'm foolish, but the person stealing is still a thief. If I left my stereo sitting in my front yard all nght and you took it you would still be a thief. No other way to look at it.

The fleecing of America... this is why Costco changed their electronics return policy to 90 days from date of purchase.

I really don't know how I became a supporter of this. I am not, and I think it is immoral and wrong in the context presented in the original article as well as in many of the comments. I agree that high prices and upcharges can't be used to justify ripping off retailers. I also worry this could result in tighter returns policies for all of us because I do take advantage of them (ethically) pretty often.

I also wonder whether all the people who say this raises prices for the rest of us refuse to use rewards credit cards, because credit cards raise the prices for everyone. Credit cards and fraud have both raised prices for everyone, and they always will. That's part of shopping at large chains. If you want to not pay any of the higher costs of fraud (something like 60% of losses to fraud and shoplifting at stores is to own employees) or credit cards shop at only local establishments that are cash only.

I just think it is interesting to look at why this seems so immoral relative to other things which have the same net effect on retailers or large corporations. Maybe a better way of phrasing it is not that this feels more immoral, but that the others perhaps feel less immoral than they should? Maybe I just have an overdeveloped sense of trying to "game" the situation for freebies that I must have picked up freshman year of college:
"You're giving out free t-shirts just for signing up for your mailing list? Sure. You're giving out coffee mugs too for getting another person to come over and get a free t-shirt? Absolutely! You mean this is for a mortgage brochure to be mailed to us? We live in a dorm, but whatever I'd love to have a brochure... if it means I get this t-shirt and mug."

Another free trial instance:
You arrive in a city where you don't reside and sign up for a cell phone plan and get a free cell phone planning to return it within the trial period just before you head back to your hometown. I have actually seen this idea promoted on travel websites as a good way of getting overseas cell phone service without roaming charges. How is this different than buying a pay-as-you-go model and chucking it when you leave the area, at least in terms of net effect on the corp. Both of these situations are taking advantage of a corporation subsidising a device you have used as a "rental" with the expectation of future profits that they will never see.

Suffice it to say, I am thinking more and more of trying to audit a business ethics class at the local university, because I find this so interesting.

Wrong, wrong, wrong. These people should rent, rather than buying an item intending to return it when they're done with it. It's unethical, and it hurts those of us who have legitimate returns to make.

And it's not that expensive to rent a big-screen TV, even for "the big game" - we did it for the 2004 World Series. I was amazed at how little it cost to rent for a whole month!

The ONLY time I would condone pre-meditated returning is if you are buying multiple versions of the same item so you can try them all out and decide which one to keep.

Rather than debate the morality of the practice I'm more amazed how desperate Americans are to have 'stuff.' My time is precious and the thought of running to and from retailers doing complicated return and exchanges as a regular way of life boggles my mind. Sure, I want the big TV, the fancy dress for the wedding, big ticket stuff, but I can't imagine going through that much trouble to get it. To me, saving money for the item just seems easier.

Matthew said:

"I also wonder whether all the people who say this raises prices for the rest of us refuse to use rewards credit cards, because credit cards raise the prices for everyone. Credit cards and fraud have both raised prices for everyone, and they always will. That's part of shopping at large chains. If you want to not pay any of the higher costs of fraud (something like 60% of losses to fraud and shoplifting at stores is to own employees) or credit cards shop at only local establishments that are cash only."

There is no comparison. I spoke up about "wardrobing" increase everyone's costs and I use a rewards credit card. Credit cards raise prices due to the transaction/processing costs, not because of immoral or borderline illegal transactions. Plus, when I use the credit card I get the convenience factor of not carrying cash, of getting all my expenses on one statement, etc. That is worth the extra cost, in my opinion. Not to mention I have a choice to pay with cash or plastic. I don't get a choice when prices go up due to wardrobing.

There is really no point in debating whether or not this is ethical. As someone who has worked in Walmart customer service for years while in college this is going to happen no matter what. Its easy to say "I just don't like it" or "It doesn't fit right". And stores will refund, especially lower end stores like Walmart. Often without questions if you have a receipt and are within the return period.

Besides, there are also people out there who intentionally break or ruin things when they are done with them so that their return looks more legit. They make up huge complicated stories and ruin the product in order to return items.

And giving store credit won't necessarily work. If the people doing it think through enough to borrow something then they are most likely smart enough to find ways around it. Since cost doesn't matter since they are getting it refunded, they can just buy the item from a place that is convienient for them to use a gift card from in the future (somewhere they shop often for things they actually want to keep!).

Purchasing an item, using it, and then returning it, is dishonest, unethical, and wrong. Purchasing an item, not using it, and then returning it, is honest, ethical, and legitimate. If the item has been used - and functioned the way is was designed to function - then the item should be kept. If the item has been used - but malfunctions during the normal course of its use (due to flaws in its manufacture) - it should be returned and a refund (or partial refund) should be expected.

I feel that the practice is unethical and dishonest. As one poster stated, it is going to happen no matter what.

But the biggest thing that bothers me the most is the fact that the item is put back on the shelf and the next unsuspecting buyer gets the product that was already used by someone. I want my t.v. new out of the box, not with someone's greasy fat finger prints already on it.

The better a return policy, the more people will shop there. I know I'm more likely to shop for certain items from a store that will take a return for a full refund in the event it doesn't work out.

We bought a DVD player at Costco, and found it stopped playing consistently, and stopped working all together after a year. While I would never have thought to do this, a friend suggested I try to return it to Costco with the receipt, despite not having the original box. They took it and gave me store credit. I was amazed! It's made me a more loyal Costco shopper because they stand behind their products.

On a similar note, I heard about a group of guys (co-workers of a friend) who were roommates and would buy a computer from Costco, use it for 6 months, and return it for a full refund. One of the other guys would then buy a new one and repeat the process. Net effect: they always had a new computer, and it didn't cost them a dime. However, because of people like that, Costco changed their return policy on big ticket items (e.g., TVs, computers), thereby impacting legitimate buyers.

I don't see how anyone can justify "wardrobing." It's like squating (occupying someone else's empty home). It's not yours, you have no intention of paying for it, and your impacting others buy doing it. What's more is I don't understand why people wardrobe. Do you really need that TV that much? Will it make you a better person? Why are possessions so valuable to you that you need to break ethics codes in order to fulfill silly whims?

it is too bad there are sufficient number of people that do it which punishes the rest of us because stores have increasingly imposed new rules to prevent wardrobing by enacting restocking fees, limiting number of days for return, or restricting what can be returned like opened items. i know several stores which monitor the frequency of returns, like COSTCO, and will revoke memberships if someone is returning items too frequently. Other stores can simply blacklist you and restrict your ability to shop with them. I think this is perfectly fine and businesses ought to do it more. i just wish that there wouldn't be a need to do so.

Most stores these days record your name, address, phone number, and driver's license number when you make a return. I don't like the idea of being put into a database of questionable security every time I make a return. However, I do think that people who abuse the system should loose their return privileges (a database may be the only way to track this).

The Call 2 Duty example is not that bad. I may consider returning a product that is still new in the packaging that the retailer is able to resell without taking a loss. I see it as identical to when I returned the OS (Windows ME, YUCK!) that came "bundled" with a PC I bought (full OS instead of OEM for some reason). I didn't want it, didn't need it, but it was forced on me by their marketing tactics. I felt no shame returning it for the full $250 (store credit only though).

A tactic my mom uses sometime is to order from a catalog, and get an item in 3 or 4 different sizes and then send back those that don't fit (paying return shipping herself). That type of practice also seems fine to me. However, I would never buy a product just for a single use with the full intent to return it. I knew a person who tried that with a very expensive digital video camera and took it on vacation. I was truly glad when I heard that it was stolen out of his bag and he was not on the hook for the whole $1,200 (and out a camera). That is the type of Karma these people invite on themselves.

Sounds like, feels like and looks like plain dishonesty.

Perhaps this may be compared with letting people have unsold seats on a flight for free because the plane would be flying anyway.

The people that believe in wardrobing must be the same people that are offering most outlandish credit card deals and scams...

My daughter talked about doing it with some clothes and I told her it was dishonest.

A little late on this one, but I think it is sad there is a term for something like this. If you like the item, buy it. If you can't afford it, save up for it. Sad.

Unquestionably dishonest. The practice is not allowed based on any retail stores return policy. In order to "wardrobe" you have to lie about the reason for your return. Lying for personal gain at the expense of anyone, rich or poor, is dishonest. Credit card promotions, coupons at the grocery store, gift cards that give a percentage discount all are issued for that purpose and you don't break any policy or rule in using it. In other words, you can use these promotional deals without lying.

This is an unjustifiable practice on par with theft. Using an item and returning it is destroying the value of an asset and then lying to pass that loss on to someone else. The value that you destroyed by using the product is the amount you stole from the retailer.

If you can return an item without lying you aren't stealing, you are using the system as the retailer intends or allows. I have had returns that didn't fall within a retailers policy so I spoke with the store manager, explained the situation with complete honesty and asked that they make an exception to their policy. On one occasion they wouldn't and I took the loss, on the other occasion Best Buy did make an exception and allowed me to return open software that didn't work on my computer for a different piece of software that would work (they took a loss as a company but they did it with full knowledge of the situation). As a result, I'm a faithful Best Buy customer, not because I can lie to them and get away with it but because they have shown that they care about keeping my business.

Sad it is that we are even discussing this! It is clearly immoral / unethical! (Is it that no one goes to church or synagogue anymore? Somehow these values used to be transmitted. I guess our modern secular state is going to need to force ethics classes on us all!)

In an ethics class you get some tools, like the "newspaper headline test". That is: How would you feel if your behavior -- say "wardrobing" -- was put on the front page of the New York Times?

I, for one, would never trust a person who does this or some of the other schemes mentioned. {Certainly I would never hire them.} If they can't clearly see that this is STEALING, how can I trust them in some future situation that is more morally ambiguous. (Think perhaps how they might have reacted on the deck of the Titanic: Would they have insisted that the women, children, and infirm get on the lifeboat first -- or would they shove others aside and serve THEMSELF?!)

Worse, I came here from a link on another well-regarded financial blog that was advocating another clearly unethical behavior -- which I won't spread here -- without even realizing the unethical nature of it! Proof positive that blogging (without a good moral compass) pollutes.

correction: Was reading two personal financial blogs at the same time. One that referred me here wasn't the offender; twas the other. Apologies.

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