Consumer Watch: Customers are calling for authorities to ensure stores offer them their cash back if they return goods, especially if this is their policy in other countries.
Shoppers vent their anger at 'unfair' no-refund policies in UAE
DUBAI // Every week, Farah Kabir spends up to 40 hours shopping.
Browsing through fashion rails is all in a day's work for the 32-year-old owner of the personal shopping and styling agency, DressCode.
To ensure she has the perfect item for a customer, Ms Kabir will sometimes buy the same piece in several sizes and colours and return unwanted stock for a refund.
But a change in policy by MH Alshaya Company left her Dh3,000 out of pocket last year.
The group, which operates H&M stores in the UAE, now loads the cash value of refunds on to a "credit card" that can only be used at stores owned by the group.
"I ended up losing my money," said Ms Kabir. "The customer should have the right to change their mind, but in the UAE the decision is left up to the store to accept or deny."
Alshaya said reaction to the card since its introduction had been positive overall.
"We have always worked closely with local ministries to ensure that we are compliant with the law, and customers with proof of purchase who return faulty or damaged goods are entitled to a full cash refund within the specified period," said a spokeswoman for the company.
"All other refunds are credited on to the Alshaya Card to the full value of the purchase and can then be redeemed at any participating Alshaya outlet over the following 12-month period, rather than just in the store where the purchase was made.
"We believe our approach to refunds is fair and transparent."
The Commercial Control and Consumer Protection (CCCP) division of Dubai's Department of Economic Development (DED) said it regarded credit notes as a valid option, but consumers had the right to accept or reject them if they were returning a defective product.
Omar Bushahab, the chief executive of the CCCP, said: "A refund in case of 'change of mind' is not compulsory under UAE law and depends on the policies of the shops."
But Ms Kabir is not the only person to take issue with how retailers chose to implement the law.
While figures for 2012 are not yet available, the DED reported that 2,300 shoppers had registered complaints with them in the first six months of 2011, with the majority of these about demands for refunds and exchanges.
Despite the complaints, the Ministry of Economy has said it is committed to its existing practice of allowing retailers to decide their own returns policies.
"It is unfair we are not offered a refund, especially if they have refund policies in other countries," said Maha Dahlan, a 22-year-old student.
"Why should I be forced to buy from a specific retailer if I cannot find something that suits me," said Najwa Hassan, a 45-year-old housewife.
"More importantly, why are retailers allowed to create their own definitions of a refund?"
Shoppers say there are other valid reasons for a refund.
Maha Murad, a 44-year-old woman who wears the hijab, said she feels it is culturally insensitive not to allow her to try clothes on at home.
"I do not feel comfortable trying on clothes in many changing rooms and therefore I am forced to settle for clothes because I cannot take things back," she said.
"There should be at least a rule that offers the consumer cash if they pay in cash."
Safaa Ettazi, a 26-year-old customer-service agent, believes it should be compulsory for all shops to offer a refund.
"It should not be left to the shops to decide," she said. "It is important to have the right to change one's mind and be able to get cash back.
"Most shops abroad allow it, why should it be different here?"
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