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In 2010, TODAY aired a Jeff Rossen investigative report in which hidden cameras revealed some retailers reselling returned underwear. The investigation found outlets of Victoria's Secret, Nordstrom, Wal-Mart, Macy's, Bloomingdale's, The Gap and Marshalls taking used underwear back from customers and putting it back on their shelves. When confronted, the retailers said they'd "re-educate" their staffs.
Following up four years later, the Rossen Reports team returned to New Jersey outlets of the same chains (though not the exact same stores) with hidden cameras. As in 2011, they purchased women's underwear and removed all the tags. Before returning the undergarments to the stores, the Rossen team put two little dots on each label with black marker to identify the items.
At Macy's, the returned underwear wound up in a clear plastic bag with other "damaged" items. At Bloomingdale's, the clerk took the underwear to the back room, and it was never seen again. There were similar results at Nordstrom and The Gap.
But at Victoria's Secret, the sales clerk quickly tossed two pairs of returned underwear behind her, and it didn't take long for both items to wind up back on a table for sale, as new.
At Marshalls the Rossen team bought a set of underwear and a swimsuit, not only taking off all the tags, but also removing the protective liner from the bathing suit so it looked used. When the items were returned, the saleswoman wasted no time putting on new tags. The bikini and underwear were carted out and put right back on the racks as if they were brand new, even though a sales associate assured a Rossen producer that "we can tell if it's used or not."
"So if it looks like it's been used, you won't sell it, right?" the producer asked.
"We don't do that .... no," the associate replied.
Putting used garments back on sale is "disgusting, and it's gross, and it's something that you wouldn't expect to find at a major retailer," according to Tiffany Yannetta, managing editor of style and shopping site Racked.com.
"To sell a bathing suit bottom without the sanitary lining would be like selling milk without the seal," Yannetta said.
But Yannetta was even more surprised by what happened at Wal-Mart. After the Rossen producer returned the underwear, a hidden camera captured the sales clerk stapling new tags on and tossing the used underwear into a cart of returns.
An associate seemed to realize that the underwear had been used, asking, "You think they wore that?" But when the Rossen team returned to the store the next day, they found the same underwear right back on the rack for sale. (The Rossen team bought the underwear again to remove it from sale.)
In a statement to NBC News, Wal-Mart acknowledged that the results of the investigation were "absolutely unacceptable." Victoria's Secret said that what was captured on hidden camera was a "clear violation" of their policy. Marshalls said they were "disappointed" that their "procedures were not followed." All three companies again promised to re-educate their staffs.
Statement from Victoria's Secret in response to this report:
"Our top priority is our customers’ satisfaction and safety. The actions you describe are a clear and significant violation of our policy. We take this situation very seriously and are taking immediate action to re-educate all of our associates on the proper way to handle returns."
Statement from Wal-Mart in response to this report:
“We have a clear and consistent policy regarding these items that has been repeatedly reinforced, but clearly there was a violation of our policy and a major mistake was made. This situation is absolutely unacceptable and if our customers have any concern about undergarments or any other product purchased from Walmart, they should come see us for a refund.”
Statement from Marshalls in response to this report:
“At Marshalls, we take customer concerns very seriously and appreciate your bringing this matter to our attention. As a general rule, merchandise that appears to be used or worn will not be accepted for return. More specifically, our internal procedures for swimwear and intimate apparel state that tickets should be properly attached to the merchandise when returned. We are disappointed to learn that our procedures were not appropriately followed in this instance and are in the process of reinforcing our guidelines with our stores. Thank you for reaching out to us.”
To suggest a topic for a future edition of Rossen Reports, email us.