Tuesday, December 27, 2011

"No Refund Policy" Angers Middle East Customers

I've written about it before, but I really hate shopping in Saudi Arabia. Despite the fact that the countless sparkling new shopping malls are beautiful and amazing, and irregardless of the sad truth that because of cultural restrictions there is just not much else to do in the way of activities for women in Saudi Arabia besides shop, shopping in Saudi Arabia is not something I have ever really enjoyed - and it's just gotten a whole lot worse.

The large Middle Eastern retail conglomerate, M. H. Alshaya, has enraged customers with a new policy that does not allow refunds for returned merchandise - only store credits will be offered.

The big unique problem in Saudi Arabia with this policy is that most clothing stores in the country do not provide dressing rooms for women to try on clothing before purchasing it. Why? Because they are illegal! Since most sales positions in KSA are jobs almost exclusively limited to men, even in women's clothing and lingerie stores, there are just too many wild X-rated possibilities that could conceivably happen in these changing rooms. So the imaginative Saudi religious clerics have deemed these convenient little necessities as totally immoral dens of filthy lust. Their answer is to deprive women in Saudi Arabia the ability to actually try on clothing first before buying it, preventing sexual attacks on women in various stages of undress in retail changing rooms.

Many stores have routinely imposed a strict return policy in the past, limiting the time frame for a return to three days. Imagine the problems this creates for women in Saudi Arabia who cannot drive and do not have drivers at their disposal to run them back to the store to return an item that doesn't fit. It's more than just a hassle.

Across the Middle East, Alshaya controls over 55 different retail chains, managing more than 2,000 franchises in 15 countries. Here is a list of companies in Saudi Arabia that Alshaya manages (I've included some links to their websites or email addresses):

American Eagle
Claires - email: customersupport@claires.com
Debenhams - email: heretohelp@debenhams.com
Dorothy Perkins
Foot Locker
Justice - email: customerrelations@tweenbrands.com
Office Depot
Pottery Barn
Pottery Barn Kids
Vision Express

I would urge you all to voice your objections to these stores' unfair trade practices in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East. Alshaya's phone number in Saudi Arabia is 920000-2482. For Alshaya's phone contacts in other countries in the region, click here. And here is the email address of Alshaya: customercare@alshaya.com

A Facebook group
has also been established to promote the boycotting of these stores under the Alshaya umbrella. Please join and show your support.

WOMEN OF THE WORLD, I ASK YOU: Have you ever been sexually attacked by a lusty salesperson while trying on clothing in a retail changing room? Whether you have or not, I want to hear it from you, so please add a comment to this post with your experience. What do you think of the Saudi religious establishment's position of forbidding women's changing rooms to prevent sexual attacks on women - justified or not?


  1. i've read this news on the arab news (or something similar) several days ago and i've i have only word CRAZY!!!!

    I mean i'm not a big fan of clothing shopping (ok if you put me in a bookstore it's another matter) but i was never attacked by a salesperson...and if the salesmen (since women can't work in a shop) are so sex driven even men aren't safe in any retail shop...

    I think whoever wants to join the religious police must pass some test like the following: it's shown a picture, maybe a boy and a girl in a shop...and there's the exam's question : what's happening next...whoever answer then they will have s@x like bunnies is hired.

    Just plain crazy, here in the sane world the first department stores were opened in the middle of the XIX century and women were hired and it was a way to improve women's life....it's crazy, crazy to see thatin KSA the mentality is still in the middleages

  2. I spent a vacation in an ocean side town one summer and lost my swim suit. I went to a young adult-beach party themed store to find a new one. I picked out a few and went to the dressing room. It was locked so I sent to the front desk where two young men were waiting on customers and asked them to grant me access to one of the rooms. As one man unlocked the dressing room, the other one wandered sheepishly up a stair case near the changing rooms. After taking in my surroundings just prior to changing, I looked up to see a small hole in the ceiling. I don't think I would normally have taken much care, but the image of the other sales man walking up stairs at the same time I was entering the changing room freaked me out! I left the store immediately. As I walked past the man that led me to the dressing room, he couldn't even look at me in the eye. He just looked to the ground and then away.

    I may have been totally wrong... but all of my instincts told me to RUN! The "CREEP-O" alarm was so loud in my mind I hardly recognized how angry I was.

    That is the closest to an "assault" I have every had.

    Yet another reason I only shop in respectable establishments!


  3. I live in the US and have never had a problem with salespeople trying to assault me in fitting rooms. If anything, I have too much of a problem getting the attention of staff by fitting rooms!
    Most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. In the case of child molestation, or spousal rape, the attacker is related to the victim. By isolating women, Saudi society cuts off avenues to help many sexual assault victims.

  4. Thanks for your comments and for relating your experiences. In all my years of clothes shopping - and I used to be quite a clothes horse back in the day - I have personally never had a salesperson get inappropriate with me. But in most of the clothing stores I've shopped in over the years, most of the sales clerks were women.

    @ CountryGirl - They probably DO have a test like that for getting hired into the religious police! LOL

    @ Eina - In what town or country did your experience happen? Creepy! And I think you made the right decision to high-tail it out of there.

    @ srb - You are absolutely right about how the Saudi society cuts off avenues to help assault victims just by the nature of their cultural system.

  5. This is absolutely insane! Everything you post makes me despair a bit more at humankind. How on earth did it all become so ridiculous?
    And no, I have NEVER encountered an inappropriate salesperson even when I was young and pretty.

  6. This is absolutely crazy!! The KSA is getting crazier and crazier by the day! A no-return policy when women can't try on clothes? I mean, what?????? Oh, I sure hope they come to their senses (highly unlikely) and reverse their decision soon. Francesca from Ottawa, Canada

  7. Ummm.... no... sexual assault has never been an issue in a store dressing room. I've even tried on clothes in a co-ed dressing room. Each individual stall had a door with a lock... a little uncomfortable but no issues.

    In some stores the dressing rooms are in the middle of the store so they are not isolated. Most dressing rooms are monitored at the entrance, the clothing items are counted and a ticket is given for the number of items you bring in... for shoplifting purposes.

    I guess it's a cultural issue (maybe) that I don't ever think of sexual assualt when I go into a store dressing room.

  8. Hi Susie,
    This is Betsy the founder of the Facebook group. Thank you so much for writing this post and for linking to my page. I am really hoping Alshaya will change their ways. Some preliminary responses I've received aren't very promising but there is strength in numbers. At least one mother company is distancing themselves from the issue because the stores in Saudi Arabia are a "franchise". Of course, franchises have rules and standards. So my next question to them will be regarding the standards they require for a franchise.

    Most of the companies will require English speakers to contact them- Arabic speakers may have better luck directly with Alshaya. Shopping is enough of an ordeal for us ladies. As it was we only had 3 days to return things. This new policy seems a huge step backward.

    I hope people will join the page and write to the companies- thank you for your support!

  9. A mutawa's nightmare:

    A woman drives to a clothes store that is open during prayer time. It's St. Valentine's Day and she buys a red dress to wear for a romantic meal with her boyfriend. She buys the dress in a clothing store staffed by women sales assistants and tries the dress on in a changing room.

    Cue the mutawa waking up in a cold sweat and indulging in self-flagellation.

  10. This is a new Arab News article about women's stores hiring female clerks - a hopeful change for Saudi women.


  11. Thanks for the feedback, everyone! Seems as if being sexually assaulted in changing rooms is something the religious police have conjured up in their overtly sexual imaginations...

    @ Betsy - I have emailed a few of the companies on the list and will try to contact all of them. It's an unfair policy that needs to be changed. Let me know if there's anything else I can do to help.

  12. Saudi, so good they named it once.

  13. Easy fix!
    Make womens clothing stores exclusive...ie. Women clerks, women managers,women only allowed inside. Make it a crime for men to enter a testosterone-free store.

    Keep shouting out Susie! Go get em!

  14. Oh boy...
    Happy New Year 2012!

  15. Of course, never had that happen, don't know anyone who has had that happen. The stores I shop at in the U.S. -- GAP, Banana Republic, Eddie Bauer, Lucky and those kinds of places -- have co-ed dressing rooms, with each room having its own lock, but a common entrance and common space for three-way mirrors. I can see why that wouldn't work in a lot of places, though. It's the collective mindset that makes it work or not, and the KSA mindset doesn't appear to allow for that level of social comfort.

    I think it's fairly clear that the more the genders interact, the more they cooperate and cohabit, the more egalitarian the mindset, then violence is less likely to occur. Am I wrong?

    Susie, I've read your blog for a long time now. You sound so frustrated at times, and I feel for you, and yet you use your energy to promote awareness and activism, and that inspires me. You always make me think. I hope you get a break sometime soon, and you can take a trip home or something, have a little breathing room and some comfort in familiarity. Life there sounds very difficult for an expatriate woman. Best wishes ever!

  16. 1. Icky dressing room moment: There was a dress I tried on at 15 that required altering. Long story short, the salesman got to second base and I ran out mortified. It was in Dubai. I assure you guys here can't be trusted with the idea that a woman is changing a door away.

    2. On the new policy: I personally know women who have abused the refund policy by wearing dresses to weddings and returning them the next day. It's a shame that I get where the company is probably coming from.

  17. Numbers and unity have the power to change.

    Happy New Year, Susie. May it be a good one filled with hope, health and happiness.


  18. Susie of course I have never been sexually attacked or harassed in any way by a lusty salesperson while trying on clothing in a retail changing room. Ever, in any country. And that includes the USA, France, Canada, Costa Rica, Panama, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK, Spain, Italy... should I continue ?

    Changing rooms are just that: changing rooms. And imagining anything else is the product of a deranged mind.

  19. I live here in Jeddah and I can just about cope with the buying clothes and then going to the bathroom to try them on. Its frustrating but if I'm in the right mood its ok, but the no cash refunds makes me crazy. I saw it was coming but I didn't realise it had happened. Heck so I now have to buy clothes before I can try them on and if they don't fit or wrong color I can't get my money back but I can get a store credit. Crazy, crazy, crazy.