Updated: Jan 17, 2020
The return of used, non-defective merchandise known as wardrobing, is a hard issue to solve. In fact you can't. You can only mitigate the problem by reminding repeat offenders that you have a strict return policy. That in itself probably won't stop them but, if done right you can make it enough of a deterrent. At the very least you will get that product back on the shelf where it belongs, ready for sale in a timely manner.
Your goal is to get that product back as soon as possible and without any damage.
All that said, assuming this is not rampant behavior by a majority of your customers; ignore it. Focus on making profit during this peak time. Accept this bad behavior as the cost of doing business. In my post titled “Return Fraud : to catch a thief”, I explain that fraud only counts for 5% of your product returns. 95% of your customers wishing to return a product are legitimate, decent people. As a result, you should be focused on turning the 95% of your returns into exchanges rather than playing detective. Read it now.
What if wardrobing really is a problem in your store.
…It's not but let's just pretend that it is. Let's pretend that a customer walks into your shop every friday and picks a set of speakers off your shelf for one time use at a big party! These 'borrowed' speakers will be centre stage. Literally. Yes, you could confront them and refuse to sell to them. Given today's state of social media; I would say that will backfire. You could cast a lot of shade at the cash and go over your extensive return policy:
stamp the receipt of repeat offenders - “return policy explained”
limited time for returns (30 days has become standard)
offer store credit only
original packaging in its original condition
valid receipt or something to show that it came from your store
returns without a receipt are marked down to the lowest sale price (this ensures that you don't return a product for more that it was possibly sold for)
restocking fee after grace period
Offer incentive to return quickly: e.g. 5% discount off any purchase made at the time of the return - if returned in two days.
…but they are still going to borrow your speakers.
Your intention is to politely discourage this customer from making a return by making the process laborious. That said, you must not give other good customers the impression that returns are not welcome here. You don't want discourage legitimate customers from making a purchase.
In the end Wardrobing is not illegal and beyond your return policy; there is not much you can do to stop it. So it's time you had them work for you…
Think of wardrobing as advertising
Here is a crazy idea. You know this person is 'wardrobing'. Find out why? Do they attend many events that require fancy dresses? Are they hosting a massive party? One with tons of attendees; potential customers? — Why not strike a deal. Be entrepreneurial! Offer to sell them products with no hassle returns so long as the product is in good condition in exchange for customer reviews. Turn something bad into something good! Turn them into an evangelist. Promote them to your customers! Require them to write a testimonial or review on google, FaceBook and or your site. Use them!
PLEASE NOTE there is a difference between repeat returns and wardrobing. Some people can't help but buy things, constantly. They can't afford them. They return them and repeat. This is not wardrobing. This is an addiction. As I said earlier talk to them. Recognize them and suggest they find a store with better products. Take the rush out of buying in your store and they will move on.
There is one alternative; one technique I use and find very effective. Honesty.
Approach this customer while they are browsing. Be welcoming but express surprise at their return to your store. Explain that you noticed how often if not always they return their purchase. Clearly the products in your store do not meet their standards and perhaps they would do better to shop elsewhere. This often catches them off guard and they agree, leaving your store. The advantage to this technique is two fold. One, remaining polite; your intervention takes place away from the cash and other customers about to give you money. Two, everyone expects a hassle during a return but no one expects to be turned away during the browsing phase. You've just nipped that disaster in the bud.
How to handle a stolen return
This one is actually easy. Just do it. Honestly they have already stolen the item. Even if you suspect they stole it, how do you prove it. Odds are you can't. They walked in with it and they will walk out with it. Your best policy is to inspect the item as per your store policy and give the store credit for the item without a receipt. It's galling but there it is. Get them on camera and make sure all staff are aware that this individual is not to be trusted in your store. The end.
Don't let one bad customer hold you back from being amazing to all of the customers that deserve your time.