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Retailers grapple with ‘serial returners’ as conspicuous consumption rises in Kuwait

Hesitancy to blacklist such shoppers to avoid losing customers

By Majd Othman

KUWAIT: It looks like people’s desire to show off by wearing expensive clothes, bags and accessories have led many to display unexpected behaviors that not only elicits disapproval from many people, but has also led them to be listed as “serial returners” at some shops. The term refers to people who buy things such as clothes, bags and accessories or other items to wear and return later to get back all the money they spent on these products, both online and in shops.
This serial returning behavior is well-known globally. A recent study conducted by resource planning platform Brightpearl showed 45 percent of retailers in UK have said they are going to start blacklisting consumers who they have discovered are regularly returning worn items of clothing. This behavior started appearing years ago among shoppers in Kuwait, but has increased in the last couple of years. Unsuspecting shoppers buy clothes from famous shops not knowing that these items are “used” and they are not the first to wear them.
Kuwait Times asked people about their opinion on not knowing they are wearing used clothes from retail shops that are supposed to sell new items. Rashed Aziz said he is always thinking about this issue every time he buys any product, because he knows many people who are doing this to save money and look nice and expensive. “The main problem is that we cannot know, so it can’t be controlled. Most important is how the shops are dealing with this issue — do they clean the clothes well and how they make sure there is no contamination,” he said.
Dana Usaimi stressed she won’t wear any new clothes before washing them first, adding she thinks such behavior indicates people have a serious psychological issue to not care about others and only try to save money. “If they don’t want to spend within their budget, they should be exposed to accountability,” she demanded.
Kuwait Times tried to contact the consumer protection department at the ministry of commerce and industry to ask them about this issue and whether they receive any complaints from shops or customers, but received no reply. On the other hand, Kuwait Times discussed with a shop manager of a popular clothing brand in Kuwait on how they treat this issue and whether it causes them financial losses, and if they fear losing customers if they take any action towards some of them.
The shop manager, who preferred to remain anonymous, said this issue is growing in Kuwait, as many shoppers buy clothes and return them due to many reasons. He said some “serial returners” like to be trendy and up to date, so they buy clothes continuously even when they don’t have enough money. Others want to save money, so they buy clothes and return them, he said, stressing all this is due to one main reason — the effect of the consumption culture that has greatly increased among people in the past few years.
The shop manager mentioned he has been working in this field for 20 years, and has witnessed consumption by shoppers has increased significantly, especially among the current and previous generation, which he thinks is due to the effect of social media, which pushes the idea of being trendy and having everything.
Regarding the costs, he explained this issue is more of a struggle for brick-and-mortar shops more than online sellers. He said while it is not easy to discover used items from unused goods, especially as shoppers are keen to return the items in a good condition, it costs them lot, as they have to sell many items later at a discount.
Another manager of a shop selling expensive evening dresses said almost every week the consumer protection department at the ministry of commerce contacts them about a client complaining the shop is refusing to take back a dress two or three days after selling it. “But we appreciate that the ministry is keen to double check the condition of the dress first, whether it is used or not, not to mention the law that prevents returning evening dresses, bags, shoes, watches and accessories 24 hours from buying the item, unless the customer proves they have the right to do so,” he explained.
Finally, both shops stressed that complaining about “serial returners” to the ministry would eventually cost them to lose their regular customers. They also pointed out this issue is going viral not only among individuals, but also among media companies that need clothes for their models, not to mention some bloggers and celebrities who exhibit similar behaviors.

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