Pulse: How We Spend: Return of the Return

In Philly, giving back has a new meaning

There are the lists we all love to be on: the Social Register, Academy Ball, Lilly pre-warehouse sale, executive committee for Bradley Cooper’s family reunions. Then there are the lists we don’t: the banned purchasers file for, say, Neiman Marcus. At a recent visit to a fashion-forward Montco boutique, the chatter at the sales counter was all about this last list. Apparently, it’s lengthening.

“I know of two people who’ve just been red-flagged, one at Nordstrom, the other at Neiman’s,” said a woman at the shop who requested anonymity.

“I definitely have friends who’ve recently been burned at Nordstrom and Neiman’s — and now Bloomie’s is doing it, too,” whispers retail dandy Jimmy Contreras.

Why all the flags and fires? “Their returns were more than their purchases,” says the first source. “Nordstrom just called one girl on the phone, said her shopping habits weren’t working for them, and cut back her house card limit, her approvals. … It was worse than getting a credit card rejected.”

Retail banishment isn’t a shiny new phenomenon. “We had one shopper who was banned because of returns; security knew who she was, and when she came in, they would escort her out,” recalls a former Neiman’s salesman. But after a few decades of sincerely lax return policies at the most fabulous mall anchors, and after a few years in which retailers’ bottom lines have been looking slimmer (in a not-so-attractive way), the big ships seem to be tightening up rules faster than their shoppers are tightening up foreheads.

“We’ve definitely started keeping a list of serial returners,” says a sales associate at one extra-high-end local retailer. “They come in, they buy, then they come back, return stuff from the previous time, and buy again. One woman who lives on Rittenhouse Square has spent about $150,000 with us, and returned about $120,000 of it.”

Of course, all this hubbub is only hearsay. The more internationally prominent the retailer, the less likely anyone there will go on the record for reportage. (“That’s proprietary,” sniffed one indignant publicist.) Off the record, however, sales clerks and stockists say the chic old days of taking back the Blahniks after a night out atop them are pretty much over.

Which is a lovely thing for personal shoppers paid in commission as well as for independent retailers who couldn’t possibly resell last season’s Mizrahi — and, frankly, a reality check for anyone whose wardrobe dreams exceed her clothing allowance.