For some, buy-and-return shopping is a strategy

For some, buy-and-return shopping is a strategy

The harried mom. The bargain hunter. The plain-old indecisive shopper.

For many consumers, buying what catches their eye and returning what doesn’t work out isn’t just a convenience but a strategy for smart shopping.

“It’s just easier to take things back than to go shopping most of the time,” said Kimberly Alsabrook, a working mom of two children who does almost all her shopping online and often returns what she doesn’t want.

The news this week that some major retailers are tracking your return habits caught the attention of some shoppers who say buy-and-return is a way to stay sane, not an attempt to cheat the system.

The Associated Press reported that many large retailers have turned to outside firms who create “return profiles” to keep track of what you kept, and what you brought back.

(Read more: Retail data not huge, yet enough to fan taper talk)

Retailers argue that it’s a smart way to prevent fraud. Richard Mellor, vice president for loss prevention at the National Retail Federation, an industry trade group, said retailers are losing around $ 9 billion a year in fraudulent returns, a number that has not changed much over time.

But retailers do try to balance the need to prevent fraud with the need to not annoy their loyal customers, he said. In some cases, he added, retailers might be willing to accept a certain amount of loss in order to keep customers with legitimate returns loyal.

Some shoppers say they use returns as a bargain-shopping strategy, picking up what looks good in the store, then taking some time to determine if it’s worth the cost.

“I impulsively buy, but I don’t impulsively shop and keep,” said Brittney Farrell, 26, who lives in the Cincinnati area.

Farrell said she prefers shopping in stores to shopping online because it is easier to return items. But she usually holds on to her receipts and said she’s never had trouble returning an item.

(Read more: Sorry retailers, can’t blame the weather this time)

Others say they are just too busy to spend a lot of time in the changing room or on the shop floor, considering whether anything from a pair of jeans to a funky lamp is the right choice. That can be especially true for working parents like Alsabrook, 38.

When faced with the choice of a long drive from her smaller community of Lawrenceburg, Ky., to the bigger shopping area of Lexington—followed by the stress of squeezing 5- and 7-year-olds into a changing room—she often opts for a mouse click.

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