Wardrobing — the practice of buying an outfit, wearing it and then returning it with the tags still in place — may not be a new concept, but it's on the rise and causing headaches for retailers.
The National Federation of Retailers found that 64.2 percent of retailers reported returns of used, but nondefective merchandise this year. The number is up from 56 percent two years ago.
"These issues are very serious. In fact, retailers will lose an estimated $11.8 billion in 2008 as a result of fraudulent returns, including wardrobing," said Joseph LaRocca, of the National Federation of Retailers.
The anemic economy has contributed to the rise of wardrobing. And though retailers know it's happening, few consumers will ever admit to wearing clothes and then returning them. But "Good Morning America" found one wardrober willing to talk.
"If I need a special occasion dress, for a wedding, for an event — I usually only do it for things like that, or a date or a party where I don't really feel like [I] have anything to wear," said one shopper who asked that her name and identity be concealed for obvious reasons.
The shopper, who has been out of work for a year, said she only plans to continue the practice until she finds work again.
"When I think back to last year when my finances weren't a concern, I don't think I did it at all," the shopper said. "I think some people have a moral issue, but most people I know don't really have a moral issue with it, I think there's a fear factor for them."
The woman said wardrobing is the only way she can get by and added she doesn't feel badly for stores with liberal return policies.
"I don't feel guilty. I know that I'm going to return it clean, and that they can resell it without a problem," she said. "I feel that I'm having a hard time at the moment and that's more important to me than what a major chain store is going through."
Not surprisingly, retailers disagree.
"A lay consumer returning the item back to a store claiming it's new may have missed a stain or the item may smell. And a retailer can't resell that item necessarily for full price and may in fact be required to send it away or even destroy the item," LaRocca said.
The practice of wardrobing doesn't just cost retailers, it also puts the pinch on consumers.
"Consumers ultimately pay a higher price at the register for the merchandise that is purchased and returned. The retailers aren't always able to resell that product," LaRocca said.