M&S Breaching Sale of Goods Act?

Posted on 31st March 2012 in customer service/ M&S

I had the most ridiculous conversation with a cashier in M&S Cambridge today.

In a nutshell, we bought some things and one of them was in the sale. At the till the cashier said that the sale item cannot be returned. We queried why this was and she said that people try to bring them back and claim they were bought at the original price.

This immediately made me feel as though she was implying that she thought I might do this.

I said that surely you would need the receipt in order to return an item.

She said it is just their company policy and that she would have to stamp the top as ‘soiled or damaged’ so that it could not be returned.

I would point out here that we have no intention of returning the top. It had been tried on and fitted fine. It was just the sheer principle of the matter.

We then queried that if we got the top home and found it to be faulty, surely we would have the right to return the top?

She agreed that yes we would. We then said that if she’s stamped the top as ‘soiled or damaged’ surely we then wouldn’t be able to return it if it was faulty?

She repeated that it was just company policy and then said that we didn’t have to take the top if we don’t want it.

We said that we do want the top but it is factually inaccurate of M&S to stamp it as ‘soiled or damaged’ when it isn’t.

She again repeated that it was just company policy. We asked her if the top was soiled or damaged: she agreed that it was not.

I said to her that I couldn’t believe that M&S would have a policy to stamp an item as ‘soiled or damaged’ that was in fact not soiled or damaged. I said that if the intention was to stop items from being returned then perhaps they should have a better returns policy?

She said that if an item was at its final reduction price they were told they HAD to stamp it as ‘soiled or damaged’ to prevent people from ‘trying to pretend they bought it at a higher price’.

I pointed out that made no sense. Surely if it was a M&S decision then they would get a stamped made up that stated ‘non returnable’ or ‘final reduction’ – I cannot believe that a massive company like M&S would opt to instruct all of its staff to inaccurately mark clothing as soiled or damaged when it blatantly was not?

As you can see, we bought the top, stamped as soiled or damaged and, at our request, the cashier wrote on the receipt that it was not! Pointless much?

I will be sending this on to M&S as I would love to hear their official response!


RESPONSE FROM M&S, 3.4.2012:

Thank you for emailing Marc Bolland about your experience when you bought a top in our Cambridge store. As a member of Marc’s personal team I’m replying on his behalf.

I am sorry you are disappointed by the service you received when you bought your top. I appreciate the advice we gave you was confusing and didn’t seem to make sense.

We use the “S” stamp in question on two occasions:

     If an item is in either our “Final Reductions” sale or our “Managers Reductions” sale

     If an item is soiled or damaged

In both instances, we use the “S” stamp to indicate an item can’t be returned under our goodwill refund policy. However, customers may still be entitled to a refund in accordance with their legal rights (eg if the item has a manufacturing defect).

We hold “Final Reductions” and “Managers Reductions” sales to clear stock before we introduce new styles and designs. This means our customers can buy our high quality clothes at significantly reduced prices. Your top was in a “Final Reductions” sale, and was therefore stamped accordingly.

As you’ve rightly pointed out, your top wasn’t soiled or damaged, and I’m afraid my colleague in our Cambridge store appears to have misinformed you. Please accept my sincere apologies for this mix-up.I’ve discussed your concerns with {name removed}, a XXXXX in our Cambridge store. XXXXX will review this matter with the assistant concerned, and will ensure any relevant refresher training is completed as soon as possible.

I acknowledge it’s not ideal to have the same “S” stamp for two different types of reduction. I assure you our Board of Directors have been made aware of this matter, and that we will review this policy as part of our ongoing service improvement programme.

Thank you very much for taking the time to bring this to our attention. I hope I’ve clarified the situation but if you have any further queries, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


AFTER giving it further thought, I have replied:

Thank you for your email.

I think you are mistakenly pegging this as a ‘training issue’ when that is clearly not the case. If you look at the comments left on my blog post you will see that several people in from many different towns have experienced the same issue. It very much appears to be exactly what your staff are taught to do and say.

One commenter in particular raised an excellent point:

“So I buy a top that’s perfectly ok, it’s in the sale and gets marked with an S. I get in home and discover a hole under the arm. My mate buys a top with a small hole on the arm, it’s marked as soiled and therefore unrefundable. We both turn up to the customer services counter for a refund. Who gets the refund? I’m confused.”

Perhaps you could clarify exactly how your staff would differentiate? If, as it would seem, they cannot, then it would very much appear that M&S are breaching the sale of goods act.

I have always viewed M&S as a shining example of correctness, quality and excellent service and it saddens me that your staff are trained in this manner.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Their reply: to me this suggests that they are agreeing that they cannot differentiate?

Thank you for your further email about our refund policy.

I acknowledge it’s not always particularly clear when we will refund an item that has been “S” stamped. However, I would like to stress that if a customer is entitled to a refund in accordance with their legal rights (eg if an item is faulty), we will always refund them the price they paid. This is irrespective of whether an item is in a sale or soiled/damaged.

I accept that a potential complication arises where we sell as soiled/damaged an item that already has a fault. In these circumstances, we will highlight the fault to the customer before they buy the item, and we will not subsequently offer a refund in connection with this fault.

However, if a different fault then arises, we will offer a refund. In the hypothetical example you’ve cited, we would refund the first customer. We probably wouldn’t refund the second customer because we should have already highlighted the damage (the hole on the arm) before he or she bought it.

Nevertheless, I agree we don’t necessarily know why an item was originally “S” stamped when it is returned to us.

If the returned item is faulty or damaged, we rely on the discretion of our advisers and the honesty of our customers to ascertain whether a refund is appropriate. If there is any doubt, we will offer a refund. All our advisers should be following our “S” stamp policy correctly, and I’m concerned by your suggestion that we’re not.

We investigate every instance where we’re not acting in accordance with our own policies, and I’d like to thank you and your contributors for bringing these examples to our attention. I’d like to reassure you that our Board of Directors will review our use of the “S” stamp, and that we will take any appropriate action accordingly. We are generally reducing the number of soiled/damaged items we sell in our stores, and this will help to prevent the complications you’ve highlighted.

I hope this is helpful but if you have any further queries, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

I think this clearly shows that they ARE currently in breach of the sale of goods act as (as highlighted by the experiences shown in the comments below) if an item is stamped with the magic ‘S’ stamp then they WILL NOT give a refund on it.

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  • Reply JallieDaddy 31st March 2012 at 9:11 pm

    Well done you! We seem to have put up with so much crap like this, & I’m surprised M&S would try to pull a silly stunt like this, Definitely illegal.

    You’re becoming a bit of a consumer champion aren’t you? I think I saw a similar post here a while ago :)

  • Reply Not Just A Mummy 1st April 2012 at 10:30 am

    if they receipt says u bought it at sale price, whether ur trying to claim sale price or full price back they have to give back the price on the receipt?

  • Reply P 1st April 2012 at 10:42 am

    hi lovely.

    I had similar thing with M&S in January/February. I picked something up off the ‘buy me now or lose me forever’ rail. A dress reduced from £60 to £45. At the check out I was told I would not be able to return it and the girl marked it with a blue spot. I was so shocked I said I wasn’t sure if I wanted the dress anymore. I asked if a supervisor could be called because I wasn’t sure I’d comprehended what I was being told – it just seemed wrong. However my request – much to my annoyance was refused. The girl was adamant she was right. Unlike you though, if I’ve understood your experience correctly, I was told even if the item was found to be faulty, eg the zip went I would not be able to return it. I left the check out having NOT purchased the dress. I did go and find a suited M&S individual to whom I related my feelings asking for clarification but was told she was only selling finance. (I growled and left).

    What was odd was I then saw (and purchased this time) another bargain a few days later, a coat reduced from £60 to £19. I asked if there were any restrictions upon return and told no. I would be able to bring it back with the receipt. Yet the sale reduction was bigger.

    Later on in the sale I did purchase two further bargains, which when I got to the check out had a ‘no return’ policy as they had red final reduction stickers on them. I purchased these because the saving was so great I could understand they just wanted to clear the stock. These items were a cashmere dress reduced from £150 to £12 and a velvet skirt reduced from £60 to £10. The size of these reductions made it worth the risk.

    However if M&S are applying this strategy to all their sales products. Hmmm!

    And while I’m moaning about M&S I had a less than happy meal deal experience. I would never have known, if I’d been purchasing how I normally do in M&S food hall. I’m just pleased I was only purchasing the meal deal, else I would never have known that a ‘side dish’ on the curry deal wasn’t a vegetable side dish which was clearly stacked under the meal deal sign. And once again, I left my shopping at the check out and found a manager to moan to. However he I discovered didn’t understand either – we even went through the check out together to establish the facts and then we went back to the display. We were then told by the shelf stacker we could only count items marked with ‘meal deal’ in the deal. SO WHY DIDNT THE SIGN SAY SO CLEARLY and why were items NOT INCLUDED in the meal deal in the display? I know what I think.

    Sorry its long – you know I”m rubbish at concise. xx

    • Reply CoffeeCurls 1st April 2012 at 11:36 am

      No apology necessary! I think it’s important that M&S realise how far their standards are slipping. xx

  • Reply Mrs McGregor 1st April 2012 at 1:02 pm

    That seems like a crazy policy, I’ve previously had to return a sale item without a receipt and fully understood that the refund would be the cheapest sale price. Usually M & S are excellent when it comes to returns. Very odd indeed!

    • Reply CoffeeCurls 1st April 2012 at 1:12 pm

      Exactly. That’s completely what I would expect. I always thought M&S had a good returns policy, as in good for the consumer and also good for them. I’m so disappointed that they are going down this (in my opinion) underhand route. And from what people are saying on twitter this isn’t a ‘one off’ misunderstanding; this is what they are instructing their staff to do.

  • Reply TheBoyandMe 1st April 2012 at 3:10 pm

    She’s wrong. I worked on the customer service desk of Marks & Spencers for 3 years and she is whole heartedly wrong.

    M&S have a policy of marking items which are soiled or damaged during transit around the store as ‘S&D’, it’s their very sensible way of making *some* money on the item (they can’t return it to the manufacturer as faulty & get money back). They mark the label & put a label on saying exactly what the fault is. It is sold as seen and no refunds can be given on that. If you get home and the item has a different fault to the one specified, you are entitled to your money back under normal statutory rights.

    Sale items have to be marked as such, normally by a red dot on the label with a permanent marker. M&S have a computerised stock management system nationwide which shows a historical pricing system for every item and dates against it. If the customer has no receipt then they can receive a credit note but only to the value of the last recorded price in tgat garment’s history.

    She’s wrong without a shadow of a doubt.

    • Reply CoffeeCurls 1st April 2012 at 3:56 pm

      Great comment thank you. And it makes perfect sense and no one could object to it. Unlike marking an item as S&D when it isn’t.

  • Reply Mrs TeePot (@TeePotTweets) 1st April 2012 at 7:04 pm

    That’s nuts! What is going on with the world???

  • Reply onlydads 2nd April 2012 at 11:09 am

    Coffee Curls – I want to talk about ties!

    My “hate-affair” with ties started at school. I loathed having to wear one. I quickly adopted “the peanut” knot as a small token of my rebellion.

    The trouble really started when I left school and began working for the C of E. In that institutuion, (one that does a lot of dressing up!), I HAD to wear a tie. This instruction came by way a memo sent to me from “the first floor”. The “first-floor” was where the BIG bosses used to hang out.

    I ended up wearing ties for 16 years. And peanut knots are not really accebtable as a grown man. So I had to dress “normally”. Bob – the conventional, tie-wearing middle manager. How grim is that!!?

    Anyway – in 2004 – I’d become a single parent, found a new girlfireind (the Provence-one) and had decided to start a new career.

    The interview with King Sturge (Property types) was bound to be a bit of a formal affair. I dressed in the morning – suit, clean brogues, ironed shirt and said tie.

    Provence came down to my house in the morning before my interview. I asked her if I looked OK. “Not reallly” she said, and with that took my tie off and ruffled up my hair (I like the ruffling hair thing btw). She told me I looked much sexier without a tie – and it was important that I went to this interview as “Bob – not a pretend Bob”

    I took her advice – went to the interview – got the job – and threw all my ties away.

    I also loosed by ties with Ms Provence later – but that’s another story.

    Anyway – M&S and ties, I hear you ask?

    Well, this Christmas my Mum decided I needed a tie. She was appalled when I did the “Westminster Single Dads Debate” in an open neck shirt!!

    She bought me a silk tie from M&S. Mum (being nearly 80 and a widow, surviving on a small pention) told me that she had bought it in their sale. It was been reduced to £12 from it’s original price of over £20.

    Mum toldme that If I didn’t like it, I could take it back and exchange it for one I liked.

    The truth is, I didn’t like it. I didn’t really want a tie – but being a good son, I told mum that because I wasn’t a flash broker type person! – I would take the tie back and maybe exchange it for an understated dark blue job. She was happy with that :-)

    Being a pressie, I did not have the receipt – and because I live 100 miles from Cardiff, I went to a different store (Torquay).

    I thought, with a bit of explanation, I would be able to swap my tie.


    The staff at the Torquay branch told me I could not exchange my tie. They want on to tell me that I could get a refund and buy myself another tie.

    I didn’t quite get the logic – but told them OK – I’ll do that.

    I was then handed a refund receipt and 1p.

    I’ll just repeat that – One Pence.

    I asked the staff what they were thinking about – and I was given a long explanation about “Company Policy” and Blah blah blah.

    Anyay – I told Mum – and she decided that “This was not like the M&S of old” and now refuses to go there.

    I decided that they could stick there 1p.

    I have a spare silk tie (I’d describe it as “burnsihed-gold) if any of your readers want it.

    • Reply CoffeeCurls 2nd April 2012 at 6:31 pm

      1p? Suggesting that the final sale price for the tie had been one pence? Does anything ever get reduced that much?!

      Your poor mum, I hope she wasn’t too upset. I think I would have been!

  • Reply freefallinginto40 3rd April 2012 at 8:30 pm

    so I buy a top that’s perfectly ok, it’s in the sale and gets marked with an S. I get in home and discover a hole under the arm. My mate buys a top with a small hole on the arm, it’s marked as soiled and therefore unrefundable. We both turn up to the customer services counter for a refund. Who gets the refund? I’m confused. :)

  • Reply Snowy 25th November 2012 at 5:27 pm

    It would make so much more sense to mark soiled as S, damaged as D, and if it’s an item sold on clearance, mark it with an X. That way if someone brings it back with no receipt, you can tell if they bought it on clearance or not.

    Or, better yet, just use the same policy so many other stores use: no receipt? Store credit for the lowest price it’s sold for in the past 12 months.

    Using a single “code” for such different things is an amazingly poor idea.

    • Reply CoffeeCurls 25th November 2012 at 5:35 pm

      So true and so simple and so why don’t they do it?

  • Reply Miss T J Holt 12th January 2013 at 7:30 pm

    I bought a pair of pyjamas reduced in final reductions. From £19.50 to £9. Yet the decor states it is on selected items. Paid for them at the food tills and wasn’t told i couldn’t return them. Then i found a pair of jeans from £32.50 to £21 to £14. I went to pay for them at the textile till and the guy who served me told me they were non returnable. He did point out the fitting rooms but i didn’t have time to try them on. So i told him to forget it and left the store. So i wasn’t happy at getting two different messages.

  • Reply pauline bate 9th June 2013 at 10:55 am

    I have had the same problem..purchased a top last week from the Bath store to be told “this is non returnable”..surely if you have the receipt,what is the problem?…on a different note..

    Last week I washed a Per Una tye dye top (first wash)..and the orange dye ran into the white!!..Have emailed M&S to be told to return it to any store..for inspection!!…and possible refund!

    What has happenend to M&S..a once market leader..now a lot of their clothing is so poorly made! and not cheap either.

    A shirt purchased for my husband,has to be reurned..the button holes are shredding! a portfolio skirt has recently been binned..I could go on!…There email stated their clothing is high quality…That is a joke!..Instead of paying Twiggy a fortune,why don’t they look after the customers,like they used to?,,,I now shop at John Lewis & Next..shame I was once a loyal M&S customer! :o(…has anyone else had a problems with M&S clothing?

  • Reply Mrs J M Hawker 26th June 2013 at 11:22 am

    Early this morning I tried to return an item of clothing which was just one day past the return date printed on the receipt but I was refused refund of the original cost. The item was not worn, had the original label still attached and I had the original receipt. The item was purchased for £25 and is now worth £9 which is an insult to me. If the depreciation over that short period of time is so much then the item is truly just a “rag”; the quality being the reason why I was returning it.

  • Reply angrycustomer 12th August 2014 at 5:54 pm

    I had same experience trying to get a refund on sale item I bought for my Mum. No usual red marker was on the item, and I wasn’t told at the till. They were bought mid-sale not at ‘final reduction’. Went to the store today to get my refund – with receipt, to be told they have dropped the red dot marking for final reductions and there would have been a sign on the rail….. No such thing, and I was not told by cashier staff. Mum is housebound and can’t come to try them on, so I won’t be picking any more sale bargains unless they are tried on by the person who they are for!

  • Reply Karen rietz 26th November 2015 at 6:57 pm

    I’ve had exactly the same argument with staff in several M&S stores. It makes me so angry. How can people try to return at higher prices if receipts clearly state price paid? Just nonsense!!!

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