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Retailers Share How They Handle Fake Returns

In this Real Deal scenario, a person tries to return items the store owner knows she could not have purchased.




SMALL BUSINESS SATURDAY was a huge success for Jessie’s store each year, and 2023 was turning out to be no different. Goodie bags were flying out the door at record speed, and the checkout line had been three or more customers deep since 9 a.m.


Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.


NANCY GUINN is founder and president of Dog
Krazy Inc., an award-winning pet supply store in Virginia with six locations. Also a clinical pet nutritionist, she consults with veterinarians and pet parents alike. Nancy shares her life with business partner and husband Chris, and their pets Sushi, Pork Wonton, Stirfry Fatguy, Tala, Jimmy Dean and Max.

Jessie walked around the store, making sure all customers had been helped before heading to the back room for more goodie bags. As she returned with them to the checkout counter, Jessie overheard her cashier say “I’m not finding your purchase” to the woman standing in front of her. Jessie looked at the line of people waiting and could see that Carla, her cashier, was getting flustered as the customer was tapping her fingers on the counter and those behind her were getting impatient.

Jessie stepped in and asked Carla how she could help. Carla explained that the woman was there to return all of the items on the counter but didn’t have a receipt for them. Before Carla could continue, the customer raised her voice for all to hear and said, “I bought all of these items last week and paid cash for them. The person who checked me out said everything was guaranteed and that I could return anything I purchased. My dog was hit by a car yesterday and died. I don’t need any of this anymore.”


“I am so sorry for your loss,” Jessie said as she looked over the items on the counter. It was at that moment she realized one product was a new holiday toy that had just come in yesterday. Jessie had checked in the delivery, priced the toys and put them on the floor. There was no way these items were purchased last week, she thought to herself. Did this woman walk in and just grab stuff off the shelf and stand in line to try and return items she never bought?

Jessie looked over to the shelf where she had displayed the new toys and could see that two were missing. She had rung up a customer earlier in the day for one of them, but didn’t remember anyone buying the other toy. But now there was a line of people waiting to check out while this woman was standing in front of them all claiming her dog was hit by a car and died. At that moment, the woman pointed to a sign Jessie had on the counter that said, “No-hassle returns. If your pet doesn’t love it, we will take it back.”

The Big Questions

  • What should Jessie do? Issue the refund to avoid a scene, even though she knows the woman did not purchase the items?
  • Tell the woman that without the receipt, the store will not issue the refund?
  • Offer to use security footage to confirm the purchase and be ready to call the police?
Lexi S.

Unfortunately, not everyone believes in “doing the right thing.” Clearly, this lady is trying to pull a fast one. Unfortunately, Jessie needs to eat the $ from the toy, allow the return and move on with her otherwise profitable day. Politely tell the lady that future returns must include a receipt.

Sheila S.

Thankfully, our POS tracks all purchases, giving me the ability to look up every transaction related to an item. On top of that, 99% of purchases are made by loyalty members and their history can be searched by name or email address. We do require a receipt for exchanges or returns for purchases made by non-loyalty members, so this customer would need to produce a receipt. If this customer didn’t have one and started to make a fuss, I’d simply smile REAL BIG and in my sweetest voice politely say, “No worries at all! I’m happy to look up every transaction in my system to find your purchase. This will take me some time, so let’s step to the side so I can get your name and number and call you the second I find proof of purchase.” It’s likely she’ll get hotter, but I won’t budge. I have zero tolerance for liars and stealers, and the other customers will only see that I’m going above and beyond to help. She will look like the ass.

Shelly N.

I would come straight out with the facts as I saw them. She could not have purchased the items last week since we didn’t even have them at that time. Then I would offer to review security footage. This will be enough to back the customer off. Not sure that I would call the police, but I would contact any retailers in the area that I had relationships with and let them know what happened.

Samm A.

First, connect! I would pull the customer into my office to express how sorry I am for her pet’s passing and to avoid any potential “scene” in front of other customers. After asking about her dog, sharing a personal story of pet loss, asking to see a photo of her dog, I’d let her know that I want to make sure she’s taken care of 100%. I’d ask for her information and tell her that I will find the purchases in my system, then call to confirm that her cash is ready for pickup. I’m confident I’d create enough calmness that she’d agree. Second, Jessie needs to know her worth by putting policies in place that safeguard her time, energy and value. A “No-hassle returns” policy is a way for customers to hold her responsible — when they should be held accountable.

Don W.

I would let the customer know that without the receipt we cannot provide a refund and that I will check security camera footage to see why the cashier did not provide one. I would say, “In the meantime, let’s step aside and let the customers behind you check out while I look into this further.” I would then point out that the purchase may have been made in another store since the items she has were just received in this store yesterday. This might make her realize she will not be refunded. Difficult issue, but with the proper treatment, the store should not have a damaged reputation.

John H.

We use security footage to catch shoplifters quite frequently, many of whom we have had arrested in the store — handcuffed and taken away. It sends a message to other customers and employees that theft will not be tolerated.

Lori J.

I’d ask the customer to step aside and then tell her that she could not have purchased the items the week before as the toy was just put into stock the previous day. I’d tell her that we will watch security camera footage to confirm. I’d ask her — in earshot of the other customers — to wait while we do this. I’d also say that our system will show all sales. I’d apologize for this inconvenience, but explain that we must abide by our records for the answer. If she doesn’t want to wait, I’d take a photo of the items and ask for her phone number to send her the photo so that she can leave and come back when we have proven this out. I will be stern, but will not give credit without proving a sale.

Sarah T.

I’d ask her to step aside so we could straighten things out and to let the other customers check out. I’d ask her when she purchased the items and then mention how that’s strange since she had an item that wasn’t available at that time. I’d suggest that possibly she had forgotten that she purchased them at another store. If she still insists, I’d tell her that I’d like to check my system and verify that the purchase happened as we do track our sales and it’s important for our inventory. I’d be patient but firm, and when I see that there was no sale for those items all together, I’d give her one more chance to come clean. If she is still insistent, I’d tell her I am going to check my security cameras. My assumption is that she’d leave at that point. If not, I’d ask her to leave. Without the items.

Megan A.

Jessie should offer sympathy for the loss of the customer’s pet, then ask her to step aside so Jessie can assist her and the cashier can move onto the next customer. At that point, I would tell the customer: “Our store does stand by everything we sell, and I would like to work with you on your return, however, I don’t believe all the items came from our store. One of the items we just placed on the shelf yesterday. I would be happy to honor your return. I just need to verify it with security footage before I do. I want to be honest and give you the opportunity to come forward.”

Wendy R.

I would express my condolences, then calmly but firmly explain that there must have been a mixup because the product she was attempting to return had just been put out the day before. I would reiterate that while I am sorry for her loss, I would not issue a refund or credit of any type. If she got loud or belligerent, I would lower my voice accordingly. If it continues, I would offer or actually insist that she stay in the store while we called law enforcement, so we could all review security footage together. At no point would I ever knowingly and willing reward a thief and a bully.

Jodi E.

We’ve actually had customers try to return items given to them for free or bought at another store. Since the sales associate had already told the customer the sale isn’t in the system, I would reiterate that point. I would offer sympathy and suggest she donate the items to one of our rescue partners. Another option would be to take the items back for store credit. If the woman was belligerent, I’d tell her that is the only option without proof of purchase. My guess is that the customer wouldn’t like that either, but good customers would see that she’s being more than reasonable.

Theresa S.

This happened to us several years ago. A customer said her dog was very sick and per the vet couldn’t eat our food. We couldn’t find her purchase in the computer. The customer said our computer was down the day of purchase so she had a hand-written receipt, but it was in her husband’s truck, he was out of town and unable to text a picture of the receipt. I hesitated issuing a refund, and she became agitated, saying her dog would die without the medicine. I asked which vet she was using; I would contact them and perhaps apply the credit to her vet account. She said she hadn’t decided which vet to use. At that point, I apologized and explained without a receipt or record in our computer we couldn’t give a cash refund. She got mad and walked out, leaving the items. I reviewed the camera footage and found she had taken the items off the shelf, and tried to return them. I am thankful we didn’t give her a refund!

Rebecca N.

I would not issue a refund. I would pull her away from the line and tell her there is no record of her purchase in our POS, so without a receipt to prove her purchase, there is no way a refund could even be issued in our computer system. If she continued causing a scene, I would ask her politely to leave the premises, or I would have to contact police. I would at the same time apologize to other customers and have my employee begin ringing them up. I wouldn’t even worry about mentioning it’s new product, because there’s no rationalizing with a thief. We have a rewards program we have people sign up for (it’s free) for no-hassle returns, so they don’t even need a receipt, and it tracks their full purchase history. Therefore, we could prove that she had never purchased the items and deny her return. They should implement something like that to prevent future issues. Also sounds like she needs another register to ring up people!

Doug S.

That is always a tough one and unless you have a computerized POS system where you track customers and product movement and know who purchased what and when. Even then unless your store policy states clearly what is required for returns, you will need to bend the rules for good merchantability. Our policy is if we have no receipt or can’t find the purchase in customer history, we will offer store credit so at least we will recoup the loss. If you have security cameras, it never hurts to review them if shoplifting is suspected. At the end of the day, you have to give your client the benefit of the doubt and then reassess where your policies may need improvement.

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