Can PrettyLittleThing legally deactivate your account?

PrettyLittleThing is facing backlash from customers who have had their accounts deactivated due to "unusual high returns activity".

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Helena Young
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Fast-fashion company and dropshipping favourite, PrettyLittleThing (PLT) is under fire from customers who are unhappy with its new look return policy.

PLT, which is owned by Boohoo Group, had previously allowed buyers to return an item for free. However, last month, it decided to introduce a £1.99 fee for users who want to send back purchases, including for members of its “Royalty” customer loyalty scheme.

Now, some customers who apparently place a high number of returns say they have had their accounts deactivated, as the company zeroes in on abuse of its returns policy.

Is it legal for PLT to deactivate customer accounts?

When it was announced, PrettyLittleThing’s decision to charge customers for placing a return immediately caused controversy among its core, young female audience.

Many online fashion brands, including Asos, allow free returns in order to build trust with customers. When a shopper cannot see or touch the item they are buying, free returns provide reassurance that they won’t be penalised if they don’t like the product on delivery.

There is also a legal consideration. Consumer Contracts Regulations mean customers have a legal right to return faulty goods. Most buyers are entitled to a 28-day cancellation period in which they are able to abandon an order and ask for a refund.

Online sellers such as PLT or dropshippers, where the customer has not seen the item physically before buying it, legally must offer a full refund should it be requested.

However, PLT is not preventing banned account holders from making returns. According to BBC News, it sent an email to all affected customers in which it clarified that they would still be able to send items back to the fashion brand via its website.

By instead banning certain customers from placing new orders, PrettyLittleThing can argue it is exercising its right to refuse service to customers who have violated its returns policy.

Why has PLT blocked some accounts?

According to retail payment experts at Dojo, PLT made the move in an attempt by the brand to mitigate the phenomenon of serial refunding and wardrobing.

Known as bracketing, this is where consumers buy ‘hauls’ of clothes to try on, or wear clothes once keeping the tags in, only to return them after they’ve been worn on a night out.

Bracketing is a problem for PLT because once items have been worn they are not considered new and therefore cannot be resold to a new customer. It’s a key reason why 64% of garments produced by the fast fashion industry end up in landfill.

PLT’s returns policy states it does not accept returned products that have been “worn or washed, including where the Products are stained or otherwise marked or damaged.” Banned customers may have had their account access removed due to violating this rule.

Dojo says bracketing is not rare, and other brands will likely start to crack down on it. “PrettyLittleThing is the latest in a long line of brands to start charging for refunds and we will likely see more brands following suit,” says a Dojo spokesperson.

How to reach the point of no return

Despite Dojo’s analysis, though, PLT customers have argued that the brand should expect to have a high percentage of returns. Its reputation is as a cheap clothing brand with a fast production cycle, which has seen it hit by accusations of poor quality and unreliable sizing.

Some customers who have received an email from PLT have told the BBC that they rarely return items, with one saying she had only sent one item back in 2024 so far. Others say they have not been refunded for their Royalty subscription.

That includes X (formerly Twitter) user, @Elana9211, who tweeted the company after her account was banned. “I can’t help your clothes sizes are a joke and are awful quality!! Can I have my £9.99 next day delivery fee back then please?” she posted.

Image source: @Elana9211 on (formerly Twitter)

It seems that any returns policy is liable to cause friction among audiences. So how can brands discourage returns without annoying customers, or forcing them to absorb the cost?

One answer for PLT might be to change suppliers. This week, John Lewis unveiled a ‘circular design’ clothing range, designed to be longer-lasting and “even better quality”.

Another might be to encourage online reviews and customer feedback, so that any product details aren’t a surprise when a product is purchased.

Most important is to have a returns policy clearly outlined on your website or in-store. As long as this stipulates what conditions you will and will not accept an item, and it adheres to Consumer Contracts Regulations, you’ll get the right kind of return: customers, not products.

Concerned about the impact of bracketing on your business? Read our guide for 7 simple tips for reducing online returns.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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