As the holiday season approaches, some early bird shoppers are in for a surprise: The age of the easy return policy may be drawing to a close. After years of erratic enforcement, analysts say, more stores are toeing the line on returns and refunds, often asking for a laundry list of personal information before they’ll say yes. Fueling the change are new computerized tracking systems that seem part high-tech, part Big Brother—and that can eliminate clerks as middlemen. Indeed, according to some estimates, half of retailers now use specialized databases that evaluate customers’ shopping habits before approving (or denying) a return. “Everyone is tweaking their rules and algorithms,” says Noam Paransky, retail strategist at consulting firm Kurt Salmon Associates.
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