Although dysfunctional behaviors by customers is increasingly being recognized by both scholars and practitioners, “illegitimate” complaining, in the form of fraudulent returns by customers, is under‐researched. The aim of this study is to address this gap in extant knowledge through explicitly focusing on uncovering factors which permit consumers to exploit retailers' liberal return policies when fraudulently returning products that they know they have used or damaged.
In‐depth interviews were utilized as the main data collection method. Interviews were conducted amongst service employees and customers. A total of 87 interviews were conducted with front‐line employees and managers of 12 general retail outlets. Customer interviewing involved 96 interviews. Potential customer informants were randomly contacted with a request to participate in a study of customer service and returning goods.
Data analysis revealed ten main factors that appear to be related to customers' likelihood of successfully, fraudulently returning products.
As with other similar studies of this nature, the findings and implications are limited by the research design and methods employed. However, these limitations also indicate potentially fruitful avenues of future research. Future studies could employ different methods and explore differing contexts to gauge the generalizability of findings.
The findings of the study have a range of implications for practitioners and policy makers. Insights are generated into the extent of fraudulent returning and the factors which facilitate successful fraudulent returns. As such, practitioners could use such insights to reduce the frequency of such episodes. Public policy implications centre on highlighting the issues which policy makers may wish to consider.
The current study is the first to explore how (rather than, why) consumers exploit firms' return policies and fraudulently defraud retailers. As such, a fundamental and stark contribution centres on the finding of widespread, recidivist fraudulent returning among those interviewed. Ten facilitators of fraudulent returning were identified, providing rich insights into how customers are able, successfully, to return used and damaged products.
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