The Retail Ombudsman, a new consumer watchdog set up to mediate disputes between stores and shoppers, handled more than 300 complaints during its first operating weekend.
Figures provided by chief ombudsman Dean Dunham show 107 complaints were made on the launch day, January 2, rising to 312 by the end of the weekend, putting the service on track to meet its prediction of 100,000 cases this year.
Dunham, a consumer rights lawyer, said a large proportion of the 3,000-plus businesses voluntarily signed up to the Retail Ombudsman are fashion retailers, but he could not provide names due to a contractual agreement. Retailers are expected to make their own announcements in the coming weeks.
Key issues raised in the opening days of the service centred on delivery and returns as a result of a surge in online shopping in the run-up to Christmas, followed by mislabelling and broken packaging.
Of the 312 complaints logged, only around half were taken on by one of the 37 full-time case workers. In the majority of cases, they found in the favour of the retailer.
Details of completed cases will be published online without the retailers’ names, with a view to providing a snapshot of the level and theme of complaints within the industry at any given time.
The independent body, which is chaired by serial entrepreneur Sir Eric Peacock – who ran businesses supplying Asda, Marks & Spencer and Mothercare – has also unveiled the tiered annual fees to be paid by its members. These start from £100 for independent retailers with a single or online-only store to £2,600 for large multiples.
Businesses with fewer than five stores will pay £200, those between five and 100 will pay £500 and corporate online retailers £1,000. An additional payment of £45 must also be paid by the retailer for each case handled, although “weak cases” that have no foundation will not incur a charge. A full breakdown of the fees is available on its website.
Dunham told Drapers: “Our aim isn’t to generate lots of complaints that cause retailers more of a headache; it is to work with the sector to help them improve what they do, but also to educate consumers, because the British public tends not to be very savvy on what their rights are.”
The body estimates that, in 2013, around 6.4 million complaints were made to retailers, 2 million of which remained unresolved. An additional 6.8 million people are thought to have had a grievance but didn’t complain.