It's not a bright, shiny moment showcasing the best of human nature.
The practice called "wardrobing" happens when consumers purchase an item from a retailer, use it, and then return it for a full refund. It's usually done with pricey clothing, hence the name.
On Super Bowl weekend, it happens with TVs.
According to B-Stock Solutions, an online marketplace for retailers' returns and overstocks, in 2016-2017 consumers returned twice as many TVs between January and March compared to October through December. The first quarter represents the highest number of TV returns made all year.
"This is very Super Bowl-centric," said Sean Cleland, head of mobile and consumer electronics at B-Stock. "You see the bulk of TV returns happening after the Super Bowl, not the holidays."
Few of the televisions purchased and returned to Best Buy, Costco, Target, Walmart and other retailers stay in the store, said Jimmy Vosika of ShopJimmy.com in Burnsville, an online company that sells TV parts. "Only a few of them are put back on the floor as an open-box item," he said. "Most of them go back into the resale supply chain."
Vosika, like many consumers, is surprised that anyone still bothers to wardrobe something as large as a 55- to 75-inch TV. "I'm too lazy to go to the trouble of hauling it home, hooking it up, and hauling it back," he said. "Once I get something that big home, it's going to stay there."
There are plenty of sales and promotions on TVs as the Super Bowl nears, but experts said the lowest prices happen in November. During the holiday season, it's not uncommon to find 55-inch models selling for $300 or less.
Cleland said that Super Bowl TV shoppers want higher-end models. "They're looking mostly at 65-inch or larger screens with nicer features," he said.
High-end TV shoppers can expect better deals in February and March than November. "Manufacturers release new models in early 2018, so you'll see a wave of discounts on last year's models, including bigger, flashier ones," said Lindsay Sakraida, director of content marketing with Dealnews.com.
A Samsung 75-inch 4K LED-TV (model UN75MU6300) that sold for $2,300 last year was $1,700 at Bestbuy.com and Walmart.com earlier this week. An LG 65-inch 4K HDR LED-TV (model 65UJ6300) that sold for $1,400 last year was $689 with free shipping on Amazon and $780 at Walmart.com.
One feature that's in demand for high-end shoppers, 4K technology, is irrelevant for Super Bowl viewers. The game is not being broadcast in 4K, although the Winter Olympics will be. A more important feature for live action viewing is the refresh rate to avoid ghosting and blurring of images.
John Brillhart of Cable Alternatives suggests getting a TV with a minimum of 120 hertz for viewers who watch a lot of sports. "The better sets go as high as 240," he said.
Brillhart, whose Twin Cities-based business helps people switch from cable or satellite to an antenna and streaming, said none of his customers have asked for his help hooking up a TV for a short period. But he did it himself once, though not because of football.
"When my grandparents moved from their condo to assisted-living in Florida, I purchased a TV and an antenna for the short time I was there helping them move," he said. "But it seems like more hassle than it's worth for most people."
While some retailers see wardrobing as a form of fraud, they seem to have done little to discourage it. Few retailers charge restocking fees for televisions, although return periods have been shortened somewhat.
Best Buy's return window is 15 days, but My Best Buy Elite and Elite Plus members get up to 30 and 45 days respectively. Target allows 30 days and Costco and Walmart extend it to 90 days.
In defense of the people who return TVs after the Super Bowl, Sakraida said some of them may be testing the latest technology, seeing if they like the higher resolution and features. On the other hand, she said, picture quality has been so vivid in recent years that many people can't see a big difference between 1080p resolution and 4K. "The potential to show off is less than it used to be," she said.
Regardless of whether wardrobing is unethical or even fraudulent, she remains incredulous that anyone would go to so much trouble. "It's a lot of effort for low reward," she said.