As the Times article says, vendors giving markdown money to stores or taking back unsold goods are age-old practices. In fact, the arrangement tends to perpetuate the relationship between a store and a vendor. Typically, whatever "refund" the store negotiates is credited against its next-season purchases. If a store drops a vendor that is holding a credit, the store, in effect, forfeits the credit remaining on the vendor's books. That, in turn, explains why some stores are notoriously slow about paying bills. They want the leverage of the unpaid bill when it comes time to press for concessions at the end of the selling season. The recent twist in the game is stores unilaterally taking credits for "contractual" offenses by the vendor. Many of these offenses involve computer and scanner technologies that are used to aid shipping, receiving and distributing goods. The sales contract (i.e.: the order) now includes provisions requiring the vendor to adhere to rigid guidelines in packaging and shipping the order. When these instructions are violated, the stores impose cash fines on the vendors. The rise of such unnegotiated, unilateral fines has opened the door for unscrupulous merchants to charge cash penalties anytime they need cash.