Outbreak of buyer's remorse hits retail

Shoppers carry packages in Chicago.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Wal-Mart reported third-quarter earnings today. Profits were up at the world's biggest retailer as consumers went looking for bargains. But the company also said the future's not going to be quite as bright.

Stores are marking down merchandise like it's December 26 out there, so the bargains are almost impossible to resist. Of course, that's the idea -- lure you in and let your impulses take over. But Beth Teitell reports, those feel-good purchases may not feel so good once you get them out of the store.


Beth Teitell: First there were fashionistas, then recessionistas, and now, meet the returnistas.

Bobbi Zimmerman: I actually think sometimes I am happier when I'm returning than when I'm actually buying.

That's Bobbi Zimmerman, a retiree from Needham, Mass., describing the relief she feels when she brings back the very items she spends her days buying.

Zimmerman: It really is like a weight off my chest sometimes.

Zimmerman is engaging in the newest fashion trend: circle shopping. And it goes like this: buy something, stress about it. Return it. Rejoice. And, repeat. Buyer's remorse is leading to a record-setting amount of returns.

Joseph LaRocca: The big figure for 2008, retailers are expecting to receive almost $220 billion in returns. According to our records, it's the largest return amount on record.

That's Joseph LaRocca, vice president of loss prevention with the National Retail Federation.

Some consumers are hunting through their closets looking for things to bring back, but for others, the urge to return strikes before they even leave the mall. Betty Riaz, owner of the Stil boutique outside of Boston, watched one customer boomerang.

Betty Riaz: So she came into the store and she bought a $225 belt. She walked out. Exactly 36 minutes later she came back. She said, "I cannot do this, I cannot do this. I need to return the belt."

Riaz disregarded the store's exchange-only policy and refunded the woman's money. An outcome that left Riaz unhappy and armed the shopper with fresh cash to start the cycle all over again.

In Boston, this is Beth Teitell for Marketplace.

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