PLT faces backlash after scrapping free returns

Influencer Molly-Mae Hague looking at a phone during a PrettyLittleThing photoshootImage source, PrettyLittleThing
Image caption,

Love Island star and influencer Molly-Mae Hague was a creative director at the fast-fashion brand

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Fast-fashion brand PrettyLittleThing (PLT) is facing a customer backlash after becoming the latest retailer to scrap its free returns policy.

UK customers must now pay £1.99 to return clothes, with the cost deducted from their refund.

Shoppers have posted screenshots on social media showing their PLT apps being deleted from their phones, with many saying they would return fewer items if the brand's sizing was more consistent.

High Street giants such as Zara, Uniqlo and Next already charge for online returns.

Analysts have said that retailers are facing cost pressures which mean they need to introduce these charges or put prices up.

PLT declined to comment.

The new charge, which was introduced last week, will also apply to PLT's "Royalty" scheme members, who pay £9.99 a year for unlimited deliveries in the UK.

PLT was one of the online-only fashion brands that saw a huge boost during the pandemic.

It has paired with influencers and Love Island stars like Molly-Mae Hague, who was previously brought on as the brand's creative director.

But some PLT customers have criticised the brand on social media, venting their frustration about the new returns fee.

On the news, one TikTok user posted screenshots as she deleted the PLT app from her phone's home screen, saying she "wasted [too] much money on this app anyway".

It has already gained 2,700 likes, while many shoppers in the comments insisted they wouldn't return so many items if the clothing sizes were more consistent.

One wrote: "Why do I have to order the same outfit in three different sizes just to hope one fits?"

Another said: "I can literally be a [size] 12 in one item and an 18 in another item. So I have to order different sizes to know."

Meanwhile on X, other shoppers wrote that they were "fuming" and that the change should have been introduced for Royalty scheme customers only when their membership is renewed.

PLT is part of the Boohoo Group, which was founded by Mahmud Kamani and retail executive Carol Kane in 2006.

The brand started out as an accessories-only outfit, with a focus on on-trend, low-cost pieces.

It was co-founded and headed up by Umar Kamani, one of Mahmud Kamani's sons, who drove the brand's collaborations with the likes of supermodel Naomi Campbell and its expansion in the US.

While it has come under the spotlight for its working practices, the Boohoo Group was one of the big winners of the pandemic, as online retailers thrived.

However, it has since faced several challenges with the rate of returns normalising, rising competition from ultra-fast fashion brands like Shein, and customer budgets being squeezed during the cost-of-living crisis.

According to official filings, external, in the year to 28 February 2023, PLT's sales dropped from £712m to £634m, while its profits before tax more than halved.

The company said profits had been dented because of technology upgrades it was making in its huge Sheffield warehouse.

And, for fashion retailers, returns can be costly.

There is also the environmental impact of using delivery trucks for online returns to consider too.

Retail analyst Catherine Shuttleworth said that customer returns represented a significant headache.

H&M, for example, was forced to U-turn on introducing a fee for shoppers who return online purchases in-store after customers spoke out.

While shoppers have grown accustomed to free deliveries or returns, retailers are facing cost pressures which mean they need to recoup these costs or raise prices, she said.

She pointed out that with sales slowing among younger consumers who are opting for more sustainable ways of shopping on second-hand sites like Depop or Vinted, brands were having to make cost decisions accordingly.

"Businesses need to dissuade shoppers from returning and when they do they need the shopper to pay for it," she said.

Experts at payment provider Dojo have also suggested the rise of buy now, pay later schemes like Klarna or Clearpay has also led to some shoppers placing orders for several products, trying them on and sending some back before any money has left their account.

As a result, online brands have also clamped down on their return policies, introducing stricter rules and inspections for clothes that are returned and refusing refunds in some cases where there are signs the clothes may have been worn out and about already.

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