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Returns top list of complaints to Retail Ombudsman

Problems returning goods accounted for more than 30% of complaints received by the newly formed Retail Ombudsman in its first six weeks, the body has revealed.

Issues around refunds and exchanges made up the majority (31.8%) of the 1,835 issues raised since it started taking complaints on January 2, 2015, followed by delivery (20.8%) and faulty goods (16.5%).

The referee service also logged grievances related to pricing and product descriptions (11.3%) and standards of service (2.6%).

However, one in six (16.9%) of all complaints were thrown out by the ombudsman. Chief ombudsman Dean Dunham said many complaints were based on an inaccurate grasp of consumer law.

“This results in the customer wasting their time engaging in a flurry of emails or telephone calls to the retailer,” he explained. “And the retailer tying up staff and money dealing with bogus complaints rather than diverting their resources to marketing and selling their products. This can have a significant impact on their profit margins.”

Dunham is also advising retailers to brush up on the new Consumer Contract Regulations to reduce the number of complaints concerning returned goods.

“We have seen a number of cases where retailers are still quoting the Distant Selling Regulations and therefore the seven day return rule. This has now been replaced by the Consumer Contract Regulations, under which consumers who buy online or from anywhere outside of a retailer’s shop premises can return goods with no questions asked up to 14 days from the date of delivery.”

Following its first operating weekend, the ombudsman told Drapers it had logged more than 300 issues, putting it on track to meet its prediction of 100,000 cases this year. Around 3,422 retailers are currently signed up to the scheme. A full list of members is yet to be released.

Dean Dunham’s Talking Business column for Drapers can be found here.


Readers' comments (2)

  • These customer complaints perfectly showcase the returns dilemma that has developed with the popularity of online shopping - 1 in 3 fashion items bought online are returned, which means 1 in 3 customers have been dissatisfied in some way. Of course, not all of them will have enough of a negative experience with a retailer to file a complaint, but no complaint doesn't mean that you haven't lost a customer forever.

    Just because you've given your customers a seamless return doesn't mean they're happy. Clear Returns' data unequivocally shows that up to 80% of first-time customers who return may never shop with that retailer again. Some of the most loyal and valuable customers are highly returns sensitive, so if a retailer disappoints them, they will be on the phone to customer services if they haven't already walked away.

    Generous return policies, such as free shipping and returning without a receipt, are often geared toward customers that have a very high inclination to return anyway. Clear Returns has seen certain segments of shoppers that return 90% of what they buy, but these high-returning groups are a distraction from loyal shoppers who usually find returning to be a negative experience.

    Your loyal customers actually want to keep what they buy, but can be brought to return if they've been let down by the retailer in some way, meaning that their trust in the retailer's quality of products and services has diminished and they may never come back to that store again. If you don't invest in returns prevention and meeting customer expectations, it will severely impact profits and customer lifetime value.

    Vicky Brock, CEO, Clear Returns

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  • Retailers should be complaining too. 30-40% clothing returns is no good for their margin.

    I've developed software that reduces online returns to less than 10%. Request a test and see for yourself.

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