Blog: Leonie BarrieNo happy returns for M&S

Leonie Barrie | 29 September 2009

You can’t help but feel sorry for Sir Stuart Rose, M&S’s beleaguered chairman.

Back in May, he didn’t just hit the headlines for revealing a 37.5% drop in annual profits and cutting its dividend by a third.

In fact, for big-busted women across the country there were far worse things afoot at the UK’s biggest clothing retailer after it was found to be charging a GBP2 surcharge on larger-sized bras.

Not surprisingly, Rose soon backed down after furious internet protests pointed out other high-street lingerie retailers were offering one price across all sizes and M&S was forced to admit it had “boobed”.

And here we go again. With the retailer’s second-quarter trading update on Wednesday, Rose is probably somewhat distracted by the furore over M&S’s plans to introduce a stricter returns policy. Shoppers now have 35 days to return unwanted items instead of the 90 day window previously on offer.

No matter that the decision to change the "no quibbles" refund policy was made back in April; ‘Middle England’ is enraged at the move.

It’s also prompted some lively debates on internet forums.

“I watched one woman return a blouse that had the labels cut out, with no receipt – insisting that the full price of £40 be refunded! And, M&S did refund her!” said one.

Another admitted she had been planning to return “some clothes I bought in the January sales.” And yet another returned a 12-year-old M&S raincoat after the lining started to fray.

Others, though, are more sanguine. “I never thought it made good business sense to refund on an item that was so old they didn't even stock it anymore,” said one, while another person pointed out: “It’s about time they did start toughening up, and apply the same rules as other retailers.”

And surely this is the crux of the matter. The retailer has been hit hard by the economic downturn as shoppers shunned its stores for cheaper rivals. And there’s no reason why it should be undermining its business by continuing to run a system that is so clearly open to abuse. Its new returns policy is still far more generous than that offered by most retailers.

M&S risks wrath of Middle England by introducing stricter returns policy


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