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Bloomingdale's new b-tags block used clothing returns

Sep. 19, 2013 at 11:42 AM ET

Video: The retailer is pushing back against customers who buy and wear items before returning them by attaching a special tag that, once removed, means clothing can’t be taken back. NBC’s Kristen Dahlgren reports.

You wear it, you own it.

Tired of customers returning used clothing, Bloomingdale’s has begun attaching chunky, 3-inch black plastic tags to dresses costing more than $150 and leaving them on after their sale.

The special “b-tags,” as they are called, are attached to visible places like the front bottom hemline to make them difficult to hide when the item is worn. Once the black plastic tag is removed, the garment cannot be returned.

Bloomingdale’s is using the tags to help crack down on a practice so common it has its own name: wardrobing. That’s when someone purchases a clothing item, wears it out once or twice – like to a party – and then returns it to the store.

“What people don’t realize is that it’s an illegal process, and it’s also known as return fraud,” retail analyst Hitha Prabhakar told NBC’s Kristen Dahlgren.

About 65 percent of retailers said shoppers returned used clothing last year, according to a November survey conducted by the National Retail Federation. The group estimates the practice costs the industry $8.8 billion last year.

Analysts say the tactic may be seen as a risky gamble that could scare customers away to competitors, like Nordstrom, which has no plans to implement a similar system.

But Bloomingdale’s defended its new practice as a way to reinforce its return policy.

“These b-tags are in place to reinforce the fact that Bloomingdale’s will be unable to accept a return of merchandise that has been damaged, worn, washed, used and/or altered,” the retailer said in a statement.

On Thursday, TODAY anchors weighed the value of the new system, and Savannah said she thought the b-tags make sense.

“This is a form of shoplifting, essentially, if you wear something and then try to return it,” she said.

But Natalie disagreed, noting that when people return used merchandise, “sometimes it's buyers’ remorse.”

Savannah disagreed, arguing that “if you’ve worn it, it’s a little bit on the blurred line.”

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