Will I Be Able to Return That Unwanted Holiday Gift? The Retail Equation (formerly The Return Exchange)

Return policies vary tremendously from one retailer to another. But, one thing that you may notice is that more retailers require a license (or government-issued ID) when you return or exchange merchandise. Retailers say they do this to keep better track of possible return fraud. Many major national retailers now outsource the collection of return and exchange data to a California-based company called The Retail Equation (formerly known as The Return Exchange) (TRE). www.theretailequation.com.

TRE is contracted by retailers to gather and store their return information and analyze the data to develop return policies for those retailers. When a consumer wants to make a return, the retailer will swipe the person’s driver’s license (or other government-issued ID). As customers return merchandise, TRE compares variables such as return frequency, dollar amounts and/or time against a set of rules that form the retailer’s return policy.

If you make repeated returns or exchanges to a specific merchant, you may not be able to do so again at a later date. Refused returns generally fall into two categories.

  • First, returns that break the retailer’s basic return policy (such as a return without a receipt, a return after the allowed return period, or multiple returns beyond the quantity of returns allowed by the retailer within a given period).
  • Second, returns that make a consumer’s overall return behavior appear to be return abuse.

TRE states that it does not share its data among retailers. Access to information in their returns database is limited to the consumer, TRE, and the retailer that provided the data to TRE. In other words, TRE does not create a compilation of the shopper’s return activity across all merchants with which that individual shops. If the shopper has returned merchandise to several companies, a merchant will only see the returns for that specific retailer.

TRE does not actually set the return policies for participating retailers. The company gathers and supplies the data that subscribing retailers use to make return authorization decisions, and helps them determine their own return policies.

Depending upon state law, retailers may be required to post their return policies, but they may not be required to accept merchandise returns. Most retailers post their return policies in their stores, on their Web sites, and/or on their receipts. Much of this may be governed by state law. In California, the Attorney General has stated that if a store reports to a central reporting company (such as The Retail Equation) and uses this as the basis for denying a return, this policy must be prominently posted in the store. http://ag.ca.gov/consumers/general/refund_policies.php

You can order a copy of your Return Activity Report from TRE. This report is a history of all your return transactions posted in those stores that use TRE. The report lists return activity information including the stores you have returned to and, for each return, the date and time, whether it was with or without a receipt, and the dollar amount.

You may obtain a copy of your return activity report by sending an email to: ReturnActivityReport@TheRetailEquation.com. You should include your name and a phone number where TRE can reach you. When TRE calls, the company will ask for your driver’s license number and state, to enable a database search. (TRE states that they prefer to call consumers to avoid sending personal information via e-mail.)