5 Signs You're a Returnaholic

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There’s a term that psychologists use for shopping addiction — "oniomania."

The term is derived from the Latin words “for sale” (onios) and “madness” (mania). A 2006 Psychology Today survey estimated that 6% of Americans — about 15 million people — are addicted to shopping.

But what about consumers who are addicted to the back end of the shopping deal — the customer return? Is there a self-help clinic and a Latin term for that addiction?

There very well should be. While there are no hard and fast numbers on how many “returnaholics” are haunting customer service counters in the U.S. these days, the problem does exist.

Psychologist April Benson told CBS News recently that “serial returning” is a big problem for shopping addicts. "What is going on, are they avoiding something in their life and just channeling it into this neverending buy-return cycle?" Benson said.

Retailers are beginning to take notice. According to the National Retail Federation, “return fraud” is a big problem, costing U.S. retailers $9.6 billion in 2009.

While nobody is saying that if you habitually return purchased items, you’re a con artist, the retail industry is getting more aggressive about store and online purchase returns. The NRF says that 17% of U.S. retailers are “tightening” their return policies this year.

So how do you know if you have a return addiction? Psychologists say that if you have any of the following tendencies, you could be a returnaholic.

  • You spend more than one hour a day on purchase returns.
  • When shopping online, you regularly add and delete items from Web site online shopping carts.
  • You feel like your return mania is interfering with your life.
  • Your mood changes when you shop — usually with a strong adrenaline rush. But when you return an item, the thrill is gone.
  • You look at big social events like weddings and dinner parties as chances to shop — and to return — clothing at an accelerated pace.

If you’re a returnaholic, you’d best be careful about lugging bags of recently purchased items back to the return counter — it could get you blackballed from a store.

A California company called The Retail Equation monitors shopping returns for retailers, matching shopper identifications to repeat “return offenses.” If you are deemed to be a habitual returner, stores can and will reject your return — and possibly ban you from shopping there in the future.

One tip that might help — stop bringing your credit cards when you’re out running errands. That might curb the temptation to stop off at the mall and start the return cycle with a purchase. If you can’t bring yourself to leave your cards at home, it might be time to cut them up for good.

The psychiatric set says that admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery. But even more important steps are the ones that keep you walking right on by a store that might tempt you with a purchase — and then a return.

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