More than 10,000 stores and shoppers turned to The Retail Ombudsman, an independent watchdog set up to mediate disputes, during the service’s first six months.
Problems related to returns dominated complaints over the period, accounting for around 31%, followed by deliveries (16%) and faulty goods (8%), the body has revealed.
Chief ombudsman Dean Dunham, a former consumer rights lawyer, told Drapers complaints are at their highest level since it launched in January, reaching close to 40 per day.
He said fashion retailers in particular need to make their returns policies more visible online.
“The retailers who fare the best and receive the fewest complaints are the ones that give a clear explanation of their returns policy. It’s about thinking of terms and conditions less like a legal document and more like guidance for the shopper.”
Of the 10,000 complaints, around 7,000 were taken on by the ombudsman’s 37 full-time caseworkers and 89% were resolved without escalation. The majority of cases continue to rule in favour of the retailer.
Around 4,000 retailers have joined the scheme, while others operate on a case-by-case basis.
Dunham said a high number of members are fashion retailers, including independents and high street brands, but he declined to say how many. Most are expected to be named on July 9 when a new European law around consumer complaints will come into effect.
The legislation will require all retailers in the UK to provide guidance on alternative dispute resolution schemes. Those signed up to the Retail Ombudsman will be automatically compliant with the European law.
Voluntary membership to the ombudsman scheme costs £100 per year for small independents with fewer than five stores and reaches £2,600 for businesses with more than 100 stores, plus an additional £45 for each case that the ombudsman takes on.
In May, serial entrepreneur and Poundland founder Steve Smith joined the Retail Ombudsman’s Independent Standards Board. He joined the body’s chairman, Sir Eric Peacock, who previously ran businesses supplying Asda, Marks & Spencer and Mothercare.
At the time of launching, the Retail Ombudsman estimated that, in 2013, around 6.4 million complaints were made to retailers.