Lockdown has brought it home to us all how dependant we are on certain goods and services. When supermarket shelves emptied, we hit the online order forms and crashed the websites. Now life under lockdown has given way to new problems as we buy things online to replace significant items that have packed in, or just treat ourselves (you’re allowed to treat yourself – it’s hard out there).
All of this has shone a light on some of the problems with shopping online. In recent weeks, we’ve noticed the rise of new kinds of complaints. In the last week alone, countless people have got in touch to say that while some retailers are selling goods, they’re less than able or willing to deal with returns or answer customer service enquiries.
Complaints about online shopping have doubled in just the last few weeks and quadrupled since back in February, with delivery problems and refunds dominating the things that people are contacting Resolver about. And that latter category is a worry – because if a retailer has the inclination to sell something, it should also have the resources to resolve a problem with it.
The good news is your consumer rights haven’t changed when it comes to goods and services bought online. But the pandemic has brought new situations in to play, with positives like extended return times to negatives like shops not letting you send things back.
Here’s an overview of your rights and a look at some of the newer problems the pandemic has brought.
Online and In-store shopping
Complaints about retailers, both online and on the high street are the third and fourth most commonly complained about products and services that Resolver gets asked to help sort out.
There are a huge range of complaints when it comes to retailers, but the biggest bugbear for us and for everyone is the fact that there are lots of rules that give people power, but many businesses ignore them, interpret them in their own favour or occasionally misinform people.
We’ve seen websites that mislead people about their rights to return items, delivery disputes that shift the blame, warranties and service contracts that aren’t worth the paper they’re written on and credit agreements that hide the true cost of borrowing. If you spot things like this, let us know!
Shopping and returns – a guide
Where do my basic shopping rights come from?
What are my rights if I want to return a purchase but there’s nothing wrong with it?
When do I get the money?
What if I bought the item in-store?
What if the goods are faulty?
What if it’s over the 30 days?
What about individual stores and their returns policies?
What if the provider of goods or services says the item isn’t faulty?
COVID 19 and your rights
All these rights are great, but the pandemic has turned everything on its head. How are you supposed to return goods if your post office is closed? What if the firm isn’t accepting returns? And what do you do if you’re shielding?
It’s come to our attention that some stores have changed their returns policies. This probably hasn’t been done for sinister reasons – it’s more a lack of staff to process and manage the returns. But because the wording on some websites is so opaque and confusing, it’s not instilling confidence.
Worse, some firms have worded things in such a way that it implies that your right to return has been officially stopped. It hasn’t, the firm is just saying it can’t deal with it now.
We believe that a business that can sell you stuff should also be able to take it back, but leaving that aside, your right to return should not be affected by this. The timescales in this article still apply but should have been extended so you know when you can return items and get refunds.
Many shops say they’ll do this when they reopen, but details are vague. We expect them to be reasonable about your personal circumstances.
If you’re concerned about a return or refund, contact the firm and explain your circumstances and ask them to go through your options. If their website is unclear then get a written response by email or even text if you can.
If you feel you’ve missed out on the time you have to return goods due to not being informed by the business, you have the right to make a complaint. Resolver can help for free: https://www.resolver.co.uk/