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Tue 17 Dec 2019 11:28 AM

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Return policies: A key factor to bear in mind when Christmas shopping?

Not all Dubai retailers have the same return policies and it can vary from five to 30 days

Return policies: A key factor to bear in mind when Christmas shopping?
A woman walks out of a Kate Spade store in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan on May 8, 2017 in New York City.  (Getty Images). Image for illustrative purposes only.

As the last shopping days before Christmas fast approach, there are many factors consumers take into account before deciding on a gift purchase. One issue they should be aware of is a retailer’s return policy, as it can vary a lot, and if there is a lengthy time between purchase and Christmas Day - when the gift is usually opened – it might mean it will not be possible to return the gift if it is not exactly what the recipients wants.

I am traditionally a last minute shopper, usually seen running around The Dubai Mall in a panic on Christmas Eve. However, this year I decided to try and be a bit more organised. So, last week I made up my list (checking it twice) and went online to buy my presents.

Top of the list was a new electronic item for a close friend who is a real tech geek. I Googled the item and found it on the Jumbo website. I was about to click purchase when I noticed the refund policy was five days. With two weeks to go to Christmas Day, I was concerned that the item may not be 100 percent what my tech obsessed friend might want and, if it was not the exact specification or colour they wanted, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to return it.

I called up the store and they said there was no flexibility on the five day policy and I would have to wait until closer to Christmas Eve to purchase or just hope my choice was right. Refusing to admit defeat I Googled some rival stores and found the exact same item at Virgin Megastore for the exact same price, but the difference was Virgin Megastore has a 30 day return policy. So I decided, on the basis of this factor, to go with this purchase instead.

Different policies

This got me thinking and I looked around at other retailers to see if there is much of a difference in return policies and I found that it does vary a lot between different retailers.

Jacky's Electronics and Jumbo have a five day policy, while Sharaf DG and Emax offer seven days. When it comes to department stores Debenhams offers 14, H&M gives 15 and Bloomingdales and Harvey Nichols state they allow 30 days.

Within the e-commerce universe noon offers 15 days as standard (unless retailers have their own policies), while Amazon offers 15 days on most items buy up to 30 days for some categories, such as fashion.

“The main legislation is UAE Federal Law 24 of 2006 – On Consumer Protection and it does not include the right to a refund or exchange if there is nothing wrong with an item, if a person has changed their mind or a recipient doesn’t like something,” Keren Bobker, senior partner at financial services company Holborn Assets and the person behind the financialuae.me website, told me.

When asked about their return policy, Jumbo issued the following statement: “Jumbo has an exchange / return policy of five days, since we see that in case of technology products, most people make an exchange or return decision within this time frame. Our in-store crew also spend a considerable amount of time explaining a product’s features and capabilities, so we ensure that our consumers are confident of what to expect when they purchase a product from us.”

Early shoppers

However, this does not address the issue that a purchaser at Christmas may not be buying it for personal use and may also be buying it more than five days before December 25.

“Most of our buyers have usually made up their minds before buying and surveyed the market for the best deal. So exchanges are mostly in case of unwanted gifts,” Deepak Kriplani, head of retail at Jacky's Electronics, told me.

“Due to the nature of the products, exchange or refund is for a limited time only. We do sometimes allow an exchange up to seven days depending on the condition of the product. Most of our competitors also follow the same kind of policies,” he added.

Bobker believes that retailers should make special concessions over the Christmas period. “It would be helpful to consumers if stores were a little more flexible at these times, especially as not everyone likes to leave their shopping to the last minute. I also think it is important for stores to be clear about their policies and consumers must check, rather than make any assumptions,” she said. 

“If there is a clear choice between a store with flexible return policies and one that simply follows the law, it stands to reason that a smart consumer will choose to buy from the former. Doubly so if buying a gift. People tend to be driven firstly by price, then convenience, but a retailer’s refund policy could be a good marketing policy that can benefit a store,” she added. 

Relationship building

David Macadam, CEO of Middle East Council of Shopping Centres & Retailers, said “it really depends on the relationship that the retailer wants to have with the customer”.

“It is not very consumer-friendly… My opinion is that there are some retailers who want to be proactive, instead of reactive. So the proactive retailers are looking to see what is going on in other corners of the world, not necessarily Dubai but other areas in Europe and North America, and are adopting those more consumer-friendly attitudes. That is the only way you are going to succeed in this market,” he believes.

So should special concessions be made for prominent shopping holidays such as Christmas? “I don’t think it should be special for Christmas, I think it should be special every day of the year,” Macadam said.

In my personal case, it was a big determining factor and Jumbo’s loss was Virgin Megastore’s gain.

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