Angry shoppers have launched a social media backlash against M.H. Alshaya, one of the biggest retailers in the Middle East, after the company stopped offering cash refunds.
Alshaya, which is the partner in the Gulf for brands such as H&M, Topshop, Starbucks and Debenhams, rolled out a new refund scheme across the Middle East in November where unwanted goods could no longer receive a cash or credit card refund. Customers instead receive store credit on a card, which is valid for up to 12 months in any of Alshaya's 55 different branded stores.
But the new policy has caused a social media stir as Gulf shoppers complain that the policy is not in line with the international brands' own policies in their home markets.
Twitter users and blogs were abuzz yesterday with complaints, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where the campaign first surfaced.
"They should be treating us the same as consumers everywhere else," said Mai Al Shareef, 30, a research based in Riyadh who began the campaign on Twitter to boycott Alshaya through the hashtag #noshaya."They are just seeing to their needs and being greedy. This policy is unfair. People should be able to get their money back," she said.
Ms Al Shareef added that in Saudi Arabia, there are no changing rooms so trying on clothes before buying was not an option.
Many Twitter users said they would start ordering goods from international brands own websites and have them shipped to the region, rather than buy in a store operated by Alshaya.
"I told the guy @H&M the policy was silly, he said management have their reasons! Really? Is it to make sure no SR [Saudi Riyals] leave the register?." tweeted
Alshaya runs more than 55 brands across the Middle East and operates 2,000 outlets in 15 countries. Not just content with calling for a boycott of Alshaya stores, Twitter users have also been contacting the Twitter pages of the international brands to voice their displeasure at Alshaya's new refund scheme.
"@Topshop we are extremely disappointed because of your retailer "alshaya" in Arabian Gulf and his unfair no refund policy. #noshaya," said the account HindAlsharif.
Other users went on to repeatedly write the same message to other Alshaya brands, such as Next, Pottery Barn, Debenhams and Oasis.
The new refund rules are not against the law in the UAE, where most retailers do not offer a cash or credit card refund. It is common throughout the Emirates for stores to offer credit. Alshaya were unavailable for comment.
Refunds and exchanges are the most regular point of contention between retailers and shoppers, Dubai's consumer protection agency said in June.
According to the DED, complaints from consumers increased 26 per cent in the first quarter of 2011, with 2,900 shoppers registering complaints against retailers, up from 2,300 last year.