BOSTON (AP) – A note to serious shoppers: think twice about returning those pants that don’t quite fit, or that scarf that doesn’t match your purse after all.

Two Newton sisters, who say they’ve been loyal customers of Filene’s Basement for decades, have been ordered to stay out of all 21 of the bargain chain’s stores, after the store deemed they had returned too many items and made too many complaints about service.

Nancy Singer, and her sister, who did not want to be identified, received a letter from the chain’s corporate parent in May telling them they were no longer welcome in the stores.

“Given your history of excessive returns and your chronic unhappiness with our services, we have decided that this is the best way to avoid any future problems with you and your sister,” wrote David E. Sherer, vice president of loss prevention at Value City Department Stores of Columbus, Ohio.

Singer and her sister acknowledge they have returned many items, occasionally complained about the service and had a few incidents with managers, the Boston Sunday Globe reported. But, they said, their actions have never been excessive.

“The sales staff is always telling you to go ahead and buy it, and return it if it doesn’t fit or look right,” Singer said.

James McGrady, chief financial officer at Value City, said customer bans are “extremely rare,” but said the sisters had returned an “incredible” number of items. Sales associates spent too much time handling the returns and complaints of the two sisters, he said.

“There comes a point in time when you say enough is enough on both sides,” he said.

Kathleen Seiders, an associate professor of marketing at Boston College, said many retail stores have begun tracking customer spending. Customers with high return rates may cut into profits because there is a high cost to servicing them, she said.

This becomes more significant as retailers’ profit margins drop in bad economic times.

“Balancing low profit margins and customer service levels is problematic, to say the least,” she said.

Because they are private property, stores may evict customers, and are not required to sell to every willing buyer.

Evictions are rare, however, partly because they bring about “bad publicity and bad feelings,” Seiders said.

Filene’s Basement flagship store for off-price men’s and women’s apparel, home goods, and accessories is in downtown Boston, but the company also has locations in Illinois, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC., Ohio, and Georgia.

Singer suspects they were banned because of complaints she made to Value City in April about comments from a Boston store manager. McGrady said no specific incident led to the ban.

AP-ES-07-13-03 1245EDT



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