Amber sitting in a colourful green and yellow window in Gran Canaria

Are retailers looking for reasons to reject online returns, or am I just unlucky?

Back in December, I ordered a dress to wear on New Year’s Eve.

Well, OK, I ordered a few dresses to wear on New Year’s Eve: not because I was planning multiple outfit changes, like Taylor Swift on the Eras tour, you understand, but just because….look, I panicked, OK? It’s been literally YEARS since I went out for NYE. For all I knew, they might have changed it. And I had no idea what to wear for a party in a community centre that involved copious amounts of alcohol, but also a bouncy castle, so I kept ordering things then sending them back, until finally I found something I didn’t hate.

(Oh, yeah, it’s me, hi. I’m the problem. I’m the reason so many retailers charge for returns now: sorry ‘bout me…)

One of the dresses I ordered was from ZARA. It arrived on New Year’s Eve itself, and by then I’d already found something else to wear, so I just tried it on very briefly, then sent it back.

A few days later I got an email from ZARA telling me they’d received the return, but that it was “not in perfect condition” so they’d grudgingly accept it “on this occasion” but I’d better get my act together for next time, or there would be consequences.

Now go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done,” it ended.

OK, it didn’t. (And it didn’t actually say the thing about ‘consequences’ either, just for the avoidance of doubt; that was just implied…) But it was worded in a way that made me feel a bit like when my mum used to tell me that if I didn’t tidy my room I’d be grounded, and I was both confused and… well, affronted, really. Affronted.

Amber sitting in a colourful green and yellow window in Gran Canaria

Me being affronted

The thing is, I’d ‘worn’ the dress in question for all of 30 seconds, while I tried it on. It hadn’t even made it out of the bedroom, let alone out of the house. I could even prove this, if they really wanted me to, by sending them photos of me on New Year’s Eve, NOT wearing their dress. And, honestly, part of me really wanted to do that, because I kind of felt like my reputation had been called into question, you know? I’d been accused of something I did not do. I was an innocent woman! I did not harm the dress! It was like the time the teacher scolded me for talking in class, but it was actually Lynn Hamilton who was talking, and I got the blame — and, just like that time, I felt the need to defend myself, and to prove that I am not careless with clothes I know I might have to return. I’m, like, really good at returns, actually. In fact, I’m THE BEST at it, and I just want the teacher — I mean ZARA — to recognize me for that. Gold star for Amber, Queen of Returns, please.

But I didn’t send them photos — or anything at all, in fact. Because, honestly, it was January, and I was tired, and they did refund me, so it would have been a waste of energy, really. Not as much of a waste of energy as typing that huge story about it, obviously, but still. I forgot about it. I moved on. I … ordered a loungewear set from ASOS.

Yes, a loungewear set. That’s who I am now. Hi, I’m Amber, and I wear matching loungewear. Only I don’t really because, when it arrived, I realized I’d forgotten I was 5’4” again, and that ‘normal’ trousers are always too long for me. So it, too, went back, and a couple of weeks later I got an annoyed email from ASOS saying they’d refund me for the top, but that the trousers were “in a used and unsuitable condition” — a line I’m now considering for the title of my autobiography — so now they were on their way back to me, and I’d have to pay for them.

Please don’t send them back to us,” they added tersely. “If you do, we won’t be able to refund you or return the items.”

(They actually did say that this time, I’m not just making it up.)

Well. Now I was really annoyed. (Especially given that this latest development came after a year of ASOS repeatedly claiming not to have received my returns, and me having to prove they did. If it had just happened once, it would’ve been no big deal, but it happened so many times I started to think they were either completely incompetent or just trying their luck, in the hope that I wouldn’t have kept the tracking info so they wouldn’t have to refund me…)

As with the ZARA dress, I’d tried the trousers on at home. It had taken me just a few seconds to figure out that they’d trip me up if I tried to walk anywhere in them, so I immediately took them off again and put them back into the shipping bag with the matching top. I’d estimate the time they spent out of the packaging was about … two minutes, maybe? Three at a stretch? Definitely not long enough for me to have rendered them “used and unsuitable”. I mean, what could you even DO to trousers in 2 minutes that would leave them in that kind of state? On second thoughts, don’t answer that…

Anyway. This was now the second time in the space of a couple of weeks that a clothing retailer had accused me of returning their clothes in a less than desirable condition (Just for context, I do almost all of my shopping online, and have done for years: until this month I’d never had a single return rejected…) so, as far as I can see, one of two things are going on here. Either:


I’m the kind of asshole who orders clothes, trashes them, then sends them back, and it’s finally catching up with me.




Retailers are actively looking for reasons to refuse returns, and are either picking up on existing flaws with the items (and, let’s be honest, this is fast fashion we’re talking about here, so it’s not like the quality’s brilliant to start with…) and blaming the customer for them, or are … actually, I don’t know what else they could be doing here. Help me out, someone?

Now, there’s obviously no way for me to prove this to you, but I can say with some confidence that it’s not #1. I am absolutely NOT the kind of person who wears clothes then sends them back, and nor am I someone who is what my mum would call “hashy” with stuff. Quite the opposite, in fact: because I’m super-fussy, and apparently a bit of an awkward shape to dress, when I order something online I always do it with the knowledge that I might have to send it back, so I treat it accordingly and am careful not to get makeup or deodorant marks or whatever on it. #GOLDSTAR #BESTATRETURNS

Some people, however, are obviously NOT particularly careful about how they treat clothes they might have to return, which is one of the reasons retailers are becoming so much stricter about what they will and won’t accept, citing the huge cost to them when people order a ton of stuff then send all or most of it back. Quite a few of my favorite brands have started charging for returns for this very reason, and I honestly have no problem with that: it’s a fairly nominal charge for most of them, and it’s significantly less than it would cost me to drive to the nearest store and try things on in person, so I’m cool with paying for returns.

Amber sitting on a yellow wall in Gran CanariaWhat I’m not so cool with, though, is having them invent spurious reasons to force me to keep things that don’t fit me or aren’t suitable, just because I’ve had them on my body for approximately 30 seconds. Who would be OK with that, though? It’s not like fast fashion brands are known for their quality, after all. If something arrives with a loose thread, say, or a button missing, how can I prove it wasn’t like that when it arrived? How I can trust the brand to accept the return and not try to blame me for it?

I can’t. So I guess the only option is to just not buy it in the first place.

But this is fine. This is good. I mean, let’s face it; fast fashion is a bad habit of mine, and it’s one I really should have broken by now. I obviously know this, and I am not proud. (So, you know, no need to send me any more scolding messages, folks, although thanks for the thought…) Try as I might to give it up, though, it was always just too easy to log onto and find something I wanted to buy. But no more. ASOS is dead to me now. I just can’t afford to order anything else from them knowing I might have to keep it, whether I want to or not, and, like I say, this is probably for the best, really. I need to cut back on the amount of clothing I buy. It’s not good for either my wallet or the planet, and the fact that ASOS has one of the best Petite sections around, and Vinted never really seems to work out for me is no excuse, is it? (No, really, IS it?)

So, I guess if this is the kick up the butt I needed to convince me to cut down on my online shopping habit, it’s no bad thing. From the response I got when I posted about this on Instagram yesterday, though, it seems I’m not the only one who’s suddenly started having online returns rejected without much in the way of explanation; so either we’re ALL being unforgivably careless with clothes, or retailers really are going out of their way to refuse returns. I also had quite a few messages from people saying they’d ordered clothes online and they’d turned up either damaged or obviously worn: now, as far as I can see, the only way to prove an item arrived in that condition, and that you didn’t wear/damage it yourself, would be for the buyer to video themself opening the package, and then poring over every single inch of the item. (Because, sure, you could just take photos of any damage you find, but that doesn’t prove whodunnit it, does it?) Is that what we’re coming to, then? Are we approaching a situation where shopping online is going to be a bit like hiring a car on holiday, when you have to take steps to protect yourself from future claims of damage? 

Honestly? I think we might be. Because, when I contacted ASOS yesterday to ask for more info about my rejected return, things quickly got weird. And honestly kind of gross. And, now that you’ve been warned, click here to read part 2 of the saga, which which ASOS accuse me of “abusing” a pair of trousers


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