Consumer NZ-controlled clothing retailer Shekou

Shekou’s Instagram page has over 250,000 followers. Screenshot / Instagram

Of RNZ

A clothing retailer has come under fire from customers who say they waited months for items to show up, while Consumer NZ has launched an investigation into its refund policy.

At the same time, the brand is facing criticism on social media regarding the authenticity of its ethical and sustainability claims.

The owners of the company back their products and reject the claims, saying they have been the subject of a smear campaign.

Recorded in June 2019, Shekou New Zealand sells trendy clothing and accessories, online and in an Auckland store, aimed at young people.

The brand, founded by Auckland couple Brianna Ellin and Joshua Mittendorf, has 800,000 followers on TikTok and more than 250,000 on Instagram.

But some customers are not happy with the shipping delays and what they are saying is a lack of transparency when it comes to sustainability.

Jessica Wilson, head of research at Consumer NZ, said the agency has been investigating Shekou New Zealand since early this year.

“We have received complaints from disgruntled customers who have paid for goods and waited months for them to show up, and being sold by the store, they are not entitled to a refund. We were also told that the Trade Commission had filed about 16 complaints against Shekou, ”Wilson said.

Jessica Wilson, Consumer NZ Research Manager.  Photo / Supplied
Jessica Wilson, Consumer NZ Research Manager. Photo / Supplied

“We are really concerned that consumers are being told they cannot get a refund when it conflicts with their rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act. You don’t have to wait for a product if the retailer doesn’t get it on time or within a reasonable period of time, you have the right to request a refund, you don’t have to wait.

Retailers who mislead consumers about their refund rights are breaking the Fair Trade Act and facing a fine of up to $ 600,000.

Consumer NZ said a customer he spoke to bought $ 170 worth of clothes in November of last year, but when the package arrived in February, a $ 34 dress was missing.

“She had contacted the company about this but did not get a satisfactory response. We also contacted the company in April to ask why this woman had not been reimbursed. Ultimately be provided to this client.”

Shekou says about 30% of her clothes are made from sustainable materials and are designed in New Zealand
Shekou says about 30% of her clothes are made from sustainable materials and are designed in New Zealand “by us”. Screenshot / Instagram

First Up spoke with another customer who waited four months for an item, and when it finally arrived, a large hole appeared in the garment after she wore it once.

“It doesn’t really meet the requirements of the consumer warranty law so I informed them and asked for a refund and they rightly refused to give me one and said they were in. sort of within their right not to give me to me, but you know, I declared my rights and they always refused to give me one, so I’m actually going to file a report with the Trade Commission. “

The client, who asked not to be named, said Shekou New Zealand’s customer service was not good enough.

“During the four months of trying to receive my order, I constantly emailed them asking for updates and the only update they gave me was that Covid delays -19 were making shipping times longer, so there were some really brutal responses and really limited in their response and they took a long time to respond to me each time as well.

“And then once the sweater arrived and I was a little concerned about the hole in it and asking for a refund, the responses were also very blunt and just like factually incorrect, according to the Consumer Warranties Act and just saying, you know, like we’re not giving you a refund. “

Consumer NZ said Shekou New Zealand’s terms and conditions state that customers cannot cancel orders and get a refund after their payment is processed. The company’s website itself has different refund policies for in-store and online purchases.

But Ellin and Mittendorf said Consumer NZ confused its change of mind cancellation policy with delivery issues.

They said they have to refund if customers change their mind, change their situation, or find a cheaper product elsewhere, but will refund if there is a violation of consumer warranty law, such as Shipping problem.

Shekou defends himself

First Up visited Ellin and Mittendorf in their Auckland office earlier this week to share the allegations with them.

“Covid has obviously had a huge impact on especially international freight and that is continuing as well,” they said.

“We’ve had a warning on our website for probably about a year now, saying that as all of our shipping lines are experiencing delays from Covid, like when you go to checkout and in brackets it will say in bold“ live Covid- 19 delays ”.

“So a consumer actually has to physically select the shipping option that shows the delays from Covid-19 in parentheses.”

But Shekou New Zealand was also facing criticism from customers and Consumer NZ for its claims about ethics and sustainability.

On his social media accounts, Shekou New Zealand said he makes around 30% of his clothing from sustainable materials certified by external organizations.

Ellin and Mittendorf insisted the claims were correct and showed First Up documents confirming that their fabric factories in China meet ethical and sustainability standards.

The problem, Ellin said, was that they weren’t allowed to post certification documents online.

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“In accordance with most of the policies of these companies, it actually says here to remove certificates from images on your website.

“We had them on our website. Reprieve told us to delete them as they see it here, we’re concerned that the information will be used by other customers and causing unnecessary problems. So these companies don’t actually allow you to publish those certificates, so we removed them from our website, we actually had them on our website.

“It’s like a double-edged sword that we’re faced with, I mean, on the one hand, consumers want transparency, but these certification bodies are like ‘don’t hand out certifications’, so I I’m not sure… it’s a Catch 22. What are you doing? “

Ellin said that while the company’s fabric factories were certified, their individual products were not, which had led to some confusion.

“The fabric we use is certified by these certification bodies, for which we have all the certifications. So basically we buy fabric from about three environmentally friendly fabric factories that are fully certified and for for a brand to then be certified as a partner factory is quite a difficult process.

“But that doesn’t mean the fabric isn’t certified. It’s a process you can go through – it’s a very long process for everything to be individually certified. We haven’t done that yet. thought it was enough, but it’s definitely something we’re going to do in the future to make sure there’s absolutely no confusion. ”

On the way to court?

Shekou New Zealand is currently threatening to sue Instagram influencer Danielle France.

The couple said she had spread misinformation about their business and they were the subject of a calculated smear campaign.

France declined to be interviewed but, in a statement to First Up, said that researching and creating a conversation regarding the sustainable and ethical fashion industry was something she was very passionate about.

“Encouraging consumers to think about where they’re buying is something I do on a regular basis, and I have absolutely no personal vendetta against any particular brand. I think it’s extremely important for brands to be transparent about how they practice and to always speak up when it comes to this matter. “

Not the first time

It was not the first time that Ellin and Mittendorf’s business practices were called into question.

In 2017, the couple raised $ 76,000 from crowdfunding site Indiegogo to create a portable espresso machine called Portaspresso.

However, four years later, the 300 people who donated the money are still waiting for the product to go into production.

Ellin and Mittendorf told First Up that they are reimbursing backers who no longer want to wait for the product.

“We’ve basically stated publicly that anyone who wants a refund can get a refund, but I think we’ve issued $ 35,000 in refunds, so probably about half of it.”

Consumer NZ said another of Ellin’s companies Luna and Lucifer had also been the subject of complaints about poor customer service and shipping delays, but all issues were said to have been corrected .

Mittendorf said while they are still learning, the company strives to meet the highest ethical standards

“Not only do we make our clothes, but we also buy all of our packaging that you know about clothes, right down to the zippers, the buttons, we buy and make it all ourselves… we can trace where this stuff came from. . “

Shekou New Zealand said he would look for ways to further improve his business in the future.


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Anne G. Cash

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