We’re supporting National Consumer Week, an annual campaign which aims to raise awareness of issues that consumers are having across the country, and the protections and resources available to help people when they need it. The theme of this year’s campaign is online shopping and delivery.
National Consumer Week is spearheaded by the Consumer Protection Partnership (CPP). The CPP is comprised of partner organisations, including Citizens Advice, National Trading Standards and the Competition and Markets Authority, who we work alongside to help identify and tackle consumer harms.
As part of this, we’re sharing some top tips and advice for consumers from Citizens Advice as well as highlighting the rules and guidance we have in place to ensure ads don’t mislead and what to do if you have concerns.
Consumer retail habits
Raising awareness of consumer rights when shopping online and what you can do if something goes wrong is important. It’s arguably become even more important and been brought into sharp focus by the current health crisis.
With the two national lockdowns, regional restrictions, shielding and social distancing all likely playing a part, more of us are avoiding shopping on the high street (either as a health precaution or because, unfortunately, shops are shut) and instead are opting to order and buy things online.
Figures from ONS reveal a considerable shift in consumer retail habits:
- Huge numbers of people are using the internet to buy things. In 2019, data indicated that 8 in 10 internet users had shopped online
- In February 2020, figures showed that 19% of retail spending was online
- This rose to 33% of retail spending in May 2020, during lockdown
This shift to online spending is increasing. People in the UK are now spending on average almost £2 billion per week online, almost half a billion pounds more than the same time the year before.
This has led to a huge surge in consumer complaints relating to online shopping. Citizens Advice has reported that between March lockdown and August this year, the number of cases reported to its consumer service on this issue went up by nearly 80% (just over 73,000 cases compared to just over 40,000 cases the same time period the year before).
Common issues that are being reported include:
- Breach of contract, for example hidden charges or restrictions, or cancelling within the cooling off period but not receiving a refund
- Defective goods, such as items that were faulty or that went faulty shortly after sale
- Delivery of goods being delayed or goods not arriving at all
Being able to buy things online has a lot of benefits - it can be more accessible, makes it easier to shop around, and helps us to save time and money. But what happens if what you’ve bought is faulty, broken, isn’t as advertised or doesn’t arrive but your money is still taken?
In terms of the advertising that you see, hear or interact with online – including claims on companies’ own websites, in social media spaces, paid influencer posts, paid ads in search engine results or on websites – our rules require that they are truthful and treat consumers fairly. That means that claims about products or services should be upfront and clear and do not mislead.
Consumers shouldn’t be caught out by unfair or unclear qualifications or terms and conditions that place undue restrictions on an offer. Pricing should be clear and savings claims, including promotions, should not exaggerate or mislead. For example, Lowest price claims, “from” and “up to” claims, guarantees and recommended retail prices are all covered by our rules.
Claims about products – performance, efficacy, characteristics – should, where appropriate, be backed by evidence. We expect advertisers to ensure that they hold documentary evidence to prove all claims, whether direct or implied, that are capable of substantiation.
In terms of a products’ availability, advertisers must make clear if stocks are limited and products should not be advertised unless they have made a reasonable estimate of the likely demand for those products. If something is no longer available, it should not be advertised as being available.
Signed, sealed and delivered?
With internet shopping part and parcel of our everyday lives it’s crucial that advertisers are also clear about any charges that might apply when delivering products to your door. Consumers resident in some parts of the UK, particularly Scotland and Northern Ireland, are often subject to additional charges to have goods delivered.
We have undertaken a lot enforcement work, alongside the Consumer Protection Partnership and our sister body CAP, to tackle online retailers who have not been making these surcharges clear and upfront.
But we’re using NCW to remind consumers about their rights and advertisers about sticking to the rules so that any ad claims deliver as promised.
In short, advertisers must not make incorrect absolute delivery claims. It is reasonable for UK consumers to expect a definitive claim about “UK delivery” to apply to them wherever they live, including Northern Ireland and the Scottish Isles. If there are delivery restrictions or exclusions, these need to be made clear from the outset, with the claim amended if necessary.
Where to go for help
If you have been online shopping and seen an advertisement, including a claim on a company’s own website, that you believe is misleading we encourage you to send us the details so that we can look into the matter further. We have an online form that is quick and easy to fill out. Or you can call and speak to one of our Complaints team.
Unfortunately, we also know that some online operators aren’t interested in following the rules or treating you fairly. Instead, they are intent on fraud and leaving unsuspecting consumers out of pocket.
Online scam ads and the sites they lead to are the cause of significant financial harm to some consumers, as well as damaging to the reputation of the online ad industry as a whole. That’s why, earlier this year, in partnership with the major digital advertising and social media platforms, including Facebook and Google we launched our new Scam Ad Alert System.
You can now report scam ads appearing in paid-for space online to us. We will promptly send an alert to all participating platforms with key details of the scam ad, as well as to publishers when the ad appeared on a publisher owned site. If they locate them, partners will remove the offending ad and suspend the advertiser's account.
To find out more about your rights and National Consumer Awareness Week visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk/NCW20
You can also call the Citizens Advice consumer service for more advice on 0808 223 1133
Top tips and advice
Citizens Advice has also produced these handy tips and advice on what to do if something goes wrong when buying online and how to avoid problems with delivery problems.
● If something has gone wrong with an item you’ve bought online
If the item you bought is broken or damaged, unusable or not what was advertised or doesn’t match the seller’s description you may be entitled to a refund, repair or replacement
● If you’ve bought something online that’s fake or counterfeit
You have the legal right to a refund and you can report the seller to Trading Standards or report the seller for fraud
● If something you ordered online hasn’t arrived
It’s the seller’s responsibility to make sure the item is delivered to you
If the seller used a courier, they should chase the courier to find out what’s happened to your order - it’s not your responsibility
Check the delivery address you gave the seller. Then contact them and ask where your order is
If the seller claims they've delivered it or don't know where it is, you can ask for a redelivery. You might be able to get a refund in some circumstances
- If you’re worried about being scammed
- Before you buy anything, take a few minutes to research the company or website you’re using. Read reviews from different websites, and search for the company’s details on gov.uk - this will tell you if they’re a registered company or not
- Pay by PayPal or by debit or credit card. This gives you extra protection if things go wrong
- Be wary of unofficial sites offering big discounts, and make sure you’re buying from the retailer’s official website. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is
- Scammers may appear like a trusted business, using links in ads or emails to direct you to a fake website. Don’t click on any links you don’t trust.
- Make your online shopping accounts secure. Try using 3 random words to create a long and strong password
- Use a strong password for your email accounts that you don’t use anywhere else
5 top tips for avoiding online shopping delivery problems:
1. Check the delivery policies before you place an order. Check the delivery times, the delivery costs as well as the process and potential cost of returning the items
2. If you won’t be home... provide as much detail as possible about where the parcel should be delivered to. Consider asking a neighbour or friend if you can deliver it to their address. However, this will be seen as a receipt of delivery, so only do this if you know the space is safe or the friend or neighbour will be home
3. Is it an online trader or online marketplace? Check if you are dealing with a trader or a private seller on an online marketplace. Your rights can be different if you’re buying online from a private seller - the goods must be as described and can’t be misrepresented (e.g. by claiming something used is brand new). However, the seller doesn’t have to disclose any faults of the items
4. Look at online reviews of the trader to see if they’re genuine. By reading the reviews of other customers, you can learn how reliable the company is and how well they deal with missing parcel complaints and refunds
5. Keep in mind who you should deal with when a parcel goes missing. Your purchase and agreement is with the trader, therefore if your parcel goes missing you should speak to the trader to deal with the problem, not the courier company
We hope everyone has a positive experience and is confident they can shop safely online. But remember, where that’s not the case, make sure you know your rights and what you can do if you have a problem. #NCW20 #SafeShopper