As Nannette Herbert found, retailers can exclude buyers from their view if they return too many items or file too many complaints.
Herbert told Guardian Money she has been banned from a number of retailers – including Amazon and Waitrose – over complaints and refund requests.
Businesses are sometimes warned when a customer exhibits “unusual” activity, such as B. requesting what may be a disproportionate number of refunds, and may block them from future purchases.
Consumers can also be banned for too many complaints if the retailer believes they are abusing the procedure.
Amazon told Herbert, who lives in London, that she closed her account last month and said she has “consistently requested refunds on a large number of orders”.
She says the ban – which has since been lifted – caused “many different problems,” including the self-published author being suspended from her publishing account.
“They said I gave back too many things, which is not true at all,” she says. “I kept most of what I ordered … and I ordered a lot of stuff. It is nowhere in their terms and conditions that they prohibit you from returning a certain number of items.”
Waitrose also blocked Herbert’s online account in December last year after she repeatedly complained about the quality of the food being delivered after “trying hard to meet her needs”.
“They delivered obsolete stuff,” says Herbert. “They expect me to pay full price and if I complain about it they ban me. I will be held responsible for their mistakes.”
In response, Amazon told us that returning purchases on Amazon.co.uk is “easy and free for millions of items” and that customers can return most items within 30 days.
It adds: “We want everyone to be able to use Amazon, but there are rare instances where someone abuses our service over a period of time and we take appropriate action.
“We never make these decisions lightly, and if a customer thinks we’ve made a mistake, we encourage them to contact us directly so we can review their account.”
Waitrose tells us that its partners (employees) “are trained to be as discerning as our customers and will select products with the longest date codes available”.
It adds: “We want all of our customers to be delighted when they shop with us and while we achieve that in the vast majority of cases, we are sorry if a customer is disappointed.
“Despite our best efforts to accommodate Miss Herbert, we were unable to meet her needs online and felt it would be better for her to select her own groceries in our stores.”
Can I be banned just because I’m returning a lot of items…?
Retailers can refuse to do business with a customer, so it’s not against any rules to ban people who repeatedly return their purchases.
“No business can be forced to have you as a customer if they don’t want to, and they don’t have to give a reason,” says Martyn James, an independent consumer expert.
Lisa Webb, consumer law expert at Which? says: “Retailers may have the right to ban customers who regularly return items or complain. However, they should only do so with a good reason.
“Returning items has an environmental cost, so shoppers should consider that next time they shop and try to shop sustainably.”
Even if a company decides to bar someone from further purchases, they still have to honor refund requests if your item is damaged, doesn’t arrive, or isn’t as described.
Online retailers also give you 14 days to change your mind – for example, if you want to try on clothes at home.
If you owe a company, they should work with you to set up an appropriate repayment plan before you close your account.
… or for many complaints?
The simple answer is that you shouldn’t be banned for making genuine complaints, or penalized for escalating issues to an ombudsman or dispute resolution body.
If the retailer believes you are acting abusively or making “angry” complaints, they may decide not to do business with you in the future.
James adds: “As long as you don’t abuse the process or the staff, you should definitely not be penalized for complaints.”
Is there a way to appeal a company’s decision?
Webb says if you’ve been banned and think it’s unfair, “follow the company’s grievance process to find out why.” If they receive an unsatisfactory response, consumers can escalate the issue to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) system or the industry ombudsman.”
Check their website to see if the retailer is registered with an ADR. If you cannot find any information, contact the company for details on their ADR scheme.
If the retailer doesn’t use one, ask if they would be willing to do so in that case, advises Citizens Advice. If the company agrees, they should find one and then give you the details.
What steps can I take to avoid being banned?
It’s a sensitive area – companies don’t usually disclose what the cut-off point is for refunds, for example, or what complaints they consider vexatious.
If you have a specific issue, there may be steps you can take to reduce the number of returns and refund requests you have to make.
For example, if you’re having trouble with packages being stolen outside your home after being left by couriers, you can have your items delivered to work or a local collection point.
Ultimately, if you had multiple reasons for a complaint, it may be better to use an alternative provider of the service you require.