Inside fastest-growing online retailer Studio as it makes 'awful' refund change and shoppers cry 'avoid at all costs' | The Sun

STUDIO Retail describes itself as one of the "fastest growing" online shops in the UK.

With over 1.8 million annual customers, the retail giant sells everything from furniture to clothes and cosmetics.

Its Trustpilot page holds an average rating of 3.9 out of five stars from over 80,000 customers, giving the appearance of a relatively well-run outlet.

But beneath the surface, its operations appear to have descended into chaos.

Over the last few months, the retailer has been inundated with negative reviews of undelivered parcels, unpaid refunds and generally poor customer service, which have slowly been dragging its rating down.

What's even more concerning is that customers are finding there's very little they can do if their order gets lost or they can't get their money back.


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This is because the retailer has quietly made a raft of changes to its terms and conditions to effectively absolve it of responsibility for long delays or missing returns.

Now, some critics are questioning whether it's deliberately making it harder to get refunds to save money.

Studio collapsed into administration in early 2022 after its bank rejected an urgent application for a £25million loan.

Things started looking up when it was bought out by retail giant Frasers Group, which owns brands like House of Fraser and Sports Direct, in February last year.

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But its service levels and reputation quickly started to go downhill.

Almost every review of the retailer now involves complaints about missing parcels or refunds or difficulty speaking to a person at the company.

Of the last 100 reviews posted on Trustpilot, 93 users left a one-star rating – the lowest rating you can give. Just two of those reviewers left more than two stars.

The story is similar on review website, where the retailer holds a dismal average rating of just 1.3 out of five stars from almost 1,300 customers.

One customer posted: "'Awful company – placed an order and not received, sent numerous emails and nothing back, no contact number for them either, AVOID AT ALL COSTS".

Another commented: "Studio used to be a good little catalogue, but the past year its services have plummeted."

In its terms and conditions (T&Cs) for deliveries before September 9 2023, Studio stated items ordered via standard delivery should take three to seven days to arrive.

But the updated T&Cs for orders placed after this date now say customers should allow up to 30 days for items to arrive.

The new terms also reduced the length of time customers have to return items from 30 to 28 days and added that "any returns are at your own risk".

And the T&Cs previously said refunds for returns would be credited to customers' accounts within 14 days of the date they returned the item – so as long as you sent it back, you were covered.

This has now been amended to say refunds will be processed within 14 days of Studio confirming by email that it has received the returned parcel.

So, it could now claim it hasn't received your return and that it's not obliged to refund you as it was posted at your own risk.

However, while the T&Cs may make it harder to complain about delays, experts say the retailer still has obligations under consumer laws.

Consumer expert Martyn James explained: "When retailers make it harder to return items or obtain refunds, it's bad news for their customers.

"After all, if they're confident in their products, why make it harder to send things back?

"But remember the law says you have 30 days to return items that aren't working or aren't as advertised.

"You also have 14 days to change your mind about something ordered online by law, and you should get a refund within 14 days of an item being received – not when the firm gets around to processing it."

Shortly after updating its T&Cs, Frasers reportedly told staff it was putting around 100 customer services roles at risk of redundancy as it relocated its operations from Lancashire to Derbyshire.

The retailer would not confirm whether these plans had further impacted customer service levels at Studio when asked by The Sun, but even less staff can't have made things more efficient.

The Sun attempted to contact Studio via its customer services email on November 16. We received a reply on December 5 – almost three weeks later.

In the email, a customer agent blamed "transitioning to a new ordering system" for a delay in processing orders and refunds and a backlog at its warehouse.

Separately, a spokesperson for Studio Retail told The Sun: "We have recently integrated our systems to improve our long-term services, and are aware this has resulted in some customers experiencing issues with their orders. 

"We apologise to those customers. Any customer contacting us regarding an order that has been delayed will be offered the option to cancel for a full refund."

The local Trading Standards that oversees Studio's operations, part of Lancashire County Council, told the Sun it's aware of a high volume of complaints about Studio.

Paul Noone, head of Lancashire County Council's Trading Standards and Scientific Services, said: "We are aware of a number of dissatisfied customers through our partnership with Citizens Advice Consumer Service and are monitoring the type of complaints being received.

"Consumers who require advice should contact the Citizens Advice Helpline on 0808 223 1133."

What should I do if I'm struggling to get a refund?

If you're having trouble getting money you're owed by a retailer, get in touch with them as your first port of call and clearly let them know what you're waiting for and how long you've been waiting.

Most companies have an online form, chatbot or an official complaints route where you can raise the issue.

Make sure to keep a record of any correspondence with them, even automated replies, which prove the message was received.

If the company makes any promises over the phone, ask them to put it in writing as soon as possible.

Take photographs of any supporting evidence, such as bank statements showing you haven't been paid the money.

If you're returning an item, it's a good idea to send it by recorded delivery so it's harder for retailers to claim they haven't received it.

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If you aren't getting anywhere with your complaint, escalate it to a dispute resolution service such as Resolver. They can liaise with the company on your behalf and carry a bit more weight.

You can threaten to take action through a small claims court as a last resort, but consider whether this is worth it. For example, if you're claiming for up to £300, the fee is £35 plus interest.

You can also join our new Sun Money Facebook group to share stories and tips and engage with the consumer team and other group members.

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