Denny’s Daily Zinger: Profitable Marketing Means Redlining

Returns are a fact of business.

red·line /’red,līn/ intransitive verb: to withhold home-loan funds or insurance from neighborhoods considered poor economic risks; and transitive verb: to discriminate against in housing or insurance
—Merriam Webster

My six-word definition of marketing:

Find profitable customers; avoid unprofitable customers.

In actuality, that’s redlining.

What triggered this column was Shelly Banjo’s Wall Street Journal story, “Rampant Returns Plague E-Retailers.”

According to the writer:

Behind the uptick in e-commerce is a little known secret: As much as a third of all Internet sales gets returned, according to retail consultancy Kurt Salmon.

Only 1/3rd of stuff gets returned? That’s good.

I come out of book publishing, where all books are fully returnable from booksellers. And 40 percent of all books shipped are returned.

My first boss in business in 1961 was children’s book publisher Franklin Watts. Every morning on his birthday, Frank would storm out of his office. “Don’t wish me many happy returns,” he would snarl (with a twinkle). “There’s no such thing.”

Consultant Bob Doscher once regaled me with the tale of catalog bandits. That’s the woman who (a) orders three party dresses from a cataloger, (b) wears one to the party and then (c) returns all three for full credit.

Banjo writes:

So this year, chains are digging through past transactions to weed out chronic returners, train shoppers to make better decisions or stem buyer’s remorse.

Takeaway to Consider

  • You can’t train weasels from a distance. The only solution is make sure they never hear from you again.

Denny Hatch’s new book is “Write Everything Right!” Bob Schwarztrauber writes, “Veteran writer Denny Hatch has mastered the writing business. It is your good fortune and mine that he has come out with a brand new book that will help us avoid making time-wasting, profit-wasting mistakes when we write. His book is titled, ‘Write Everything Right!’ You need this book if you are serious about writing and getting paid well for it.” Click here to download (opens as a PDF) and read the first three chapters FREE. The title is also available on Kindle. Reach Denny at

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

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  • Scott Lunt

    I worked for a catalog company and a real eye-opener was sitting in on customer service calls. One time an angry woman called to complain that the tablecloth she had ordered didn’t come with the place mats, plates and silverware that were in the catalog photo. Apparently she did not see the "Table settings not included" disclaimer in the photo. Of course she wasn’t that dense, just manipulative. What she didn’t realize is we had a record of all her customer service calls and she was a chronic complainer who was always trying to get something for free.

    We also had a woman’s shoe catalog and our biggest problem with returns were those people who ordered a pair just for a party or night out. We could tell because the bottoms would be well worn but they would claim they didn’t fit.