Historically Arabs are notorious for their autocratic business model, however in today’s highly competitive world companies fall over each in trying to gain consumer loyalty through quality products and better customer services. Unfortunately not all Saudi companies have caught on to this approach.
In the majority of Saudi malls there are no fitting rooms inside the shops. If a customer needs to try something on, they have to pay for it and then go to the mall’s public fitting rooms or take it home to try it on. Either way, the transaction has to be completed before the customer can try on what they bought. Add to that the fact that women shoppers also have to deal with transportation issues since there are no public transportation options available and they have to arrange for a man to drive them to return products. It’s a surprise that some Saudi retail companies do not seem to understand this difficulty. It has become a new trend among these to implement a no refund policy. Basically according to the new no refund policy, as a consumer in Saudi Arabia, you can no longer be adventurous in trying out new styles and trends. With no fitting rooms inside the shops, buying something to see how it looks has just become a lot riskier. If the customer does not like how something looks on them, they either have to stick with it or take something else instead even if nothing else strikes their fancy.
The old policy was usually three days for a full refund and seven for an exchange and no refunds on sales items. Three days is pretty tight but people were generally able to work with that. This year though some companies have started to implement the new no-refund policy. Once a customer has paid for something it cannot be refunded. If it does not fit or if for any other reason the customer changes their mind they can only exchange it for store credit. If the consumer exchanges the returned goods for something that costs less, the difference will also not be refunded. So if there’s even a difference of 20SR, the customer will get a store credit card with the amount that can be redeemed at any of the company’s stores. And what if it’s something much more pricey, that store credit card will be quite valuable. Having to keep that card safe until the store offers something you like is not an easy task. Imagine the frustration of losing it or forgetting to use it before the 12 month expiration period.
I am happy to say Saudis are not taking this new policy lying down. A campaign launched on social media calls for the boycott of all of one of these companies’ brands until they change their policy. On Twitter, a hashtag, #noshaya started by Mai Al Shareef got quite a bit of attention with people commiserating on how hard it is already to shop with no fitting rooms and a short time period to return things. Mai Al Shareef set up a poll that asked how people felt about the new no refund policy, 89% of the 3800 people that voted were against the no refund policy. Other activists also started to contact the international brands sponsored by Shaya directly to complain about the local policy. Especially since most of these brands, if not all, have generous refund policies in their home countries. If only AlShaya would be humble enough to actually listen and take into consideration what their customers want.
Al Shaya is a Saudi company that hosts international franchises mostly in GCC countries but has expanded to the larger Middle East area. It has more than 55 brands under its umbrella in 15 different countries. It has brought to Saudi some of my favorite clothing brands to shop at such as Topshop and H&M. AlShaya was also one of the first Saudi companies to encourage Saudis to go into the retail and customer service sector. In all of their stores, I’m happy to say that there’s usually at least one Saudi behind the counter. This nationalization policy and the variety and prices of their goods has always made me proud that they are a Saudi company. That’s why I was honestly surprised and disappointed that they decided to implement the no refund policy.
I don’t know if people will actually stick to the boycott, but boycott or no boycott, I know that all companies that implement a no refund policy have lost my business and no matter how good that blouse in their window looks, I will not succumb.