‘New’ House of Fraser brings new prob­lems for cus­tomers

From the fear of los­ing the bal­ance on a gift card to not get­ting a re­fund for re­turns, Miles Brig­nall and Sarah But­ler ask: can you trust the store?

The Observer - - Cash -

Is it safe to or­der on­line at the “new” House of Fraser, now owned by Sports Di­rect? One cus­tomer who bought £380 of goods has found him­self in a sim­i­lar or­deal to the thou­sands of un­happy cus­tomers who lost out when the “old” com­pany went into ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Harps Singh, from Birm­ing­ham, paid £380 for three pairs of de­signer jeans in late Septem­ber, just days af­ter the store re­launched its web­site. They ar­rived as ex­pected, but as they were not suit­able he de­cided to re­turn them.

He pre­sumed his par­cel would be ac­cepted back and his £380 re­funded. But he has been told by Royal Mail that it is among the thou­sands of other parcels stacked up in a Welling­bor­ough ware­house full of goods re­turned by cus­tomers of the “old” House of Fraser, which the com­pany is re­fus­ing to re­fund.

His re­peated re­quests that his re­fund be pro­cessed have drawn no re­sponse. He has been told he can’t re­turn the items to a store, as staff have been told not to process we­bor­der re­funds.

Singh must have been one of the first peo­ple to use the re­launched web­site, which was off­line for about a month af­ter Sports Di­rect’s Mike Ash­ley’s con­tro­ver­sial buy­out. At the time, Ash­ley pledged the store would be­come “the Har­rods of the high street”.

Singh says: “I’d al­ways been a happy House of Fraser cus­tomer, and for­tu­nately wasn’t one of those caught up in the col­lapse. I was happy to pay the new de­liv­ery charges be­cause it meant I didn’t have to go shop­ping, but now I dis­cover my re­turned items can’t be found among a sea of parcels.

“No one can tell me what’s go­ing on – it’s ridicu­lous. I cer­tainly won’t be or­der­ing again any time soon, and oth­ers who were think­ing of do­ing the same need to be aware of what’s go­ing on there.”

The orig­i­nal depart­ment store’s £1bn col­lapse left thou­sands of con­sumers out of pocket. Many had placed or­ders for items that were not de­liv­ered, and un­wit­tingly be­came cred­i­tors of the old com­pany.

The Ob­server un­der­stands that there may be bet­ter news for the 25,000 hold­ers of the orig­i­nal House of Fraser gift cards.

Af­ter the takeover, House of Fraser asked card hold­ers to send in their cards, promis­ing a re­place­ment. Some of these have also been re­turned un­opened, and most cus­tomers as­sumed they had lost their money – in some cases as much as £750. This week, it emerged that some cus­tomers have re­ceived let­ters telling them they will be is­sued with re­place­ment e-vouch­ers that will be valid un­til 31 Jan­uary 2019. Fur­ther gift cards can be sent back un­til Wed­nes­day 31 Oc­to­ber, it states. The com­pany has, typ­i­cally, made no for­mal state­ment.

Signs in stores state that the com­pany is only ac­cept­ing Post Of­fice, One4all gift cards and House of Fraser re­ward vouch­ers.

Fu­ri­ous cus­tomers have taken to so­cial me­dia to vent their frus­tra­tion at the lack of in­for­ma­tion. Sev­eral long­stand­ing clients have had enough and promised they will never shop in the chain again.

The com­pany had orig­i­nally promised to re­fund cus­tomers who had on­line or­ders can­celled and then re­neged on that of­fer. Last week, the firm’s for­mer di­rec­tors and se­nior man­agers were sacked.

Yvonne Fo­var­gue MP, who chairs the all-party par­lia­men­tary group on con­sumer pro­tec­tion, says the de­ba­cle has demon­strated the need for a con­sumer om­buds­man with “real teeth”. She adds: “Mike Ash­ley made a num­ber of prom­ises to cus­tomers when he bought the busi­ness last month, and these should be hon­oured. He cer­tainly has a le­gal duty to ful­fil, or at least re­fund, or­ders placed since he took over. His si­lence here is un­ac­cept­able.”

When con­tacted by the Ob­server, House of Fraser told us: “Our web­site is now func­tion­ing nor­mally and we are not aware of any sig­nif­i­cant back­log of re­turns re­lat­ing to or­ders made af­ter 10 Au­gust. If cus­tomers ex­pe­ri­ence any iso­lated is­sues, we rec­om­mend they con­tact cus­tomer ser­vices in the nor­mal way.”

‘Mike Ash­ley made a se­ries of prom­ises when he bought the busi­ness last month … his si­lence here is un­ac­cept­able’

Yvonne Fo­var­gue MP

Alamy

Warn­ing signs: The old House of Fraser web­site went off­line, but the new ver­sion has thrown up more prob­lems.

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