An ad for Asda's new 100-day returns policy was banned for presenting the basic consumer right as a bonus of shopping at the supermarket chain, a watchdog said today.
The retailer introduced the policy across its clothing range in March, claiming it wanted to halt the increase of "throwaway" fashion on the high street.
The move came months after rival Marks & Spencer cut its 90-day returns deadline to 35 days, to the anger of customers.
A television ad for the clothing label George at Asda said: "At George, we know what makes a difference; the quality and feel of the fabric, the stylish cut, the stitching, colours that stay colourful, extensive testing and the finer details... and that's why, at George, we now offer a 100-day quality guarantee on all our clothes, so you can enjoy quality that lasts. Yes, that's George, exclusively at Asda."
On-screen text said the offer excluded footwear, jewellery and accessories not made from cloth.
A viewer objected that the 100-day guarantee was misleading because consumers had more time to return items that were not of an acceptable quality under the Sale of Goods Act.
Defending the ad, Asda said employees were briefed on the difference between a "faulty" list, which detailed defects covered by the Sale of Goods Act, and a "quality" list covered by the 100-day guarantee including fabric bobbling, pulled threads, shrinking, stretching and colour fading.
The guarantee also allowed customers to return clothes within 100 days because they changed their mind, a point of difference from other retailers, Asda said.
However the retailer said it regretted any confusion and said it would clarify the extent of the guarantee in future advertising.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld the complaint, pointing out that legislation allows consumers up to six years to bring an action for breach of contract.
It added that the onus is on the seller if a consumer complains about quality up to six months following purchase.
The ASA said: "We considered that consumers were likely to expect even low-price clothes to last 100 days (just over three months) without the fabric quality deteriorating by, for example, bobbling or stretching or fading in colour, and considered that the George 100-day guarantee, as presented in the ad, did not offer any more consumer protection, in relation to the obligation for a seller to provide goods of a satisfactory quality, than that already available under statutory legislation.
"We also concluded it was likely to mislead by giving the impression consumers only had 100 days in which to return faulty products, when that was not the case."
It ruled that the ad breached regulations relating to exaggeration and misleading advertising and must not appear again in its current form.