BEWARE! Retailers are Watching and Grading Customers

Published On November 29, 2018 | By Tom Huskerson | Online Holiday Shopping

This holiday season beware, retailers are watching you and keeping records. Just as you grade their customer service performance they are grading you as a customer. And even reading what you may not want them to see. As if dealing with a credit score is not tough enough now more and more retailers are rating customers.

According to the Wall Street Journal customers maybe banned from making exchanges.  Are you returning high-theft items like a flat-screen television?  Or are you returning too many items in a short time period? These activities can leave a black mark on your customer score or rating.

A California company, The Retail Equation (TRE), is keeping records and scoring consumer’s return activity. TRE’s services is now in use by over  34,000 stores according to the WSJ. TRE reports statistics showing retailers losing from $10.8 to $17.6 billion a year in the United States and $1.2 to $1.7 billion a year in Canada from fraudulent activity committed by customers.

Retailers have tried to keep track of customers who abuse the store’s return policies. Now TRE has taken over the dirty work of being the bad guy rejecting these returns. TRE has the authority to enforce return policies on the behalf of many of its clients. They can even slap penalties on consumers ranging from year-long banishment to barring exchanges altogether. TRE claims that it uses a number of analytical tools to help retailers reduce fraud and  “identify the approximately 1% of consumers whose behaviors mimic return fraud or abuse.”

Right now retailers are caught up in a tug of war with online retailers when it comes to returns. As the abuse of return policies grow retailers, especially major big box stores, have begun to move away from liberal return policies while online retailers are conditioning customers to expect a more lenient return policy. TRE, owned by Appriss Inc. of  Louisville, KY, told the WSJ that retailers have turned over return policy decision-making to them.

Tom Rittman, an Appriss marketing vice president said, “We are hired by the retailers to review the returns, look for suspicious situations and issue approvals, warnings or denials.  You could do things that are inside the posted rules, but if you are violating the intent of the rules, like every item you’re purchasing you’re using and then returning, then at a certain point in time you become not a profitable customer for that retailer.”

TRE gives customers what they call a “risk score.” Let’s say you want to return an item. The salesperson will scan the original receipt and/or swipe your license or ID to verify your identification and the system will reveal your unique “return behavior.” This “risk score,” much like a credit report, stays with you whether you return merchandise you bought in-store or online. This score is used by TRE to compare things such as how frequently of you return items, your purchase history and dollar amount against a threshold set by the retailer. If your “risk score” does not meet a specific threshold the salesperson will be instructed to deny your return or place conditions on your next return including being denied the privilege. If you are denied a return you can contest the decision by contacting TRE at

Online chat has become a vital channel for retail and online customer service. But did you know that the customer service agent on the other end of the chat session can see what you writing in real time even if you never hit the send button?

Online chat service Live Chat is offering a feature known as “real-time typing view.” This tool allows agents to have answers to questions you have not yet asked.  Live Chat claims McDonald’s, Ikea, and Paypal as its customers. It calls the same feature “message sneak peek,” and admit it allows clients  to “see what the visitor is typing in before they send it over.” Salesforce Live Agent also offers “sneak peak.”

Breaking It Down

Companies have enough records on the consumer without tracking how often you return items. They have a right protect themselves against fraud and abuse. But another consumer record? Are they trying to frighten you into not returning something…again? Now instead of being stern and doing their own dirty work they have hired another company to do it for them.  I have a better idea. Talk to the customer; ask why they are returning the item. Engage them see if you can help them exchange it for something else. Offer in store credit instead of a refund. But wait; thats good customer service.

And let’s talk about that chat spy. Let’s say you typed something nasty. But never intended to send it. Does the company have a right to see it? Is this a privacy issue? Some consumers may feel so.  What this is is a way for companies to see what you’re thinking and feeling. In the age of big data don’t they already know enough about you? This is really not necessary.




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About The Author

Tom Huskerson Bio Born in Richmond Virginia Tom Huskerson is a military veteran who settled in California after his discharge. Tom attended Santa Barbara City College where he began his writing career as a campus reporter. He worked as an intern news reporter for the Santa Barbara News-Press writing feature stories before moving on to San Francisco. At San Francisco State University Tom studied broadcast communications and began to focus on the Internet. He completed his graduate thesis on Internet advertising. Tom was the first student to ever focus on the Internet as a graduate student at San Francisco State University. After graduation he went to work for Zona Research in California’s Silicone Valley. As a research associate Tom supported senior analyst writing on the latest developments in the Internet industry. During the dot com boom Tom worked for several web businesses as a market researcher and analyst. As a writer and researcher Tom has authored various technical works including a training program for Charles Schwab security. Other projects included professional presentations on workplace violence and hiring security contractors. Tom has also written both fiction and non-fiction works and blogging for a travel website. He has published two books of short stories and completed two novels. Tom is the owner of Scribe of Life Literature and Tom is not the chief editor for the OnTechStreet. com. A news and information blog that focuses on tech news for African-Americans. The blog is the result of his desire to inform the African American community of the dangers and benefits of the cyber age. In his blog Tom reports on information security, new and analysis, scams and hoaxes, legal happenings and various topics that arise from the age of information. Tom believes that technology is a necessary tool for black people and they should know what is happening. Tom writes believing that techno speak is for the professional and that valuable information can be communicated using plain language. As a result he has embraced the motto, Less Tech, More Knowledge.

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