M&S Breaching Sale of Goods Act?

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.