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Retail 'most complained-about sector' in the UK as online commerce grows: study

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Retail is the most complained-about sector in the UK, as the growth of internet shopping drives rising complaints, according to a report out this week.

Ombudsman Services, an independent, not-for-profit, complaints mediation service, said 18.5m complaints were made about retail in the last 12 months in its annual Consumer Action Monitor. The complaints, made either to the supplier, shared online or escalated to a third party, fell evenly between online-only retailers and those with shops. Those 18.5m complaints accounted for 28% of the 66m complaints recorded over the last year.

Commenting on the findings, chief ombudsman Lewis Shand Smith said: “With the number of complaints almost doubling in the last year it’s clear to see that customers are less willing than ever to stand for poor service and poor quality.

“While it is encouraging to know that consumers are becoming more aware of their rights and more likely to take action, we’re also seeing millions of problems that aren’t taken up with suppliers.

“In 2015, as new legislation brings alternative dispute resolution services, such as ombudsmen, to more and more sectors, there will be more routes for customers to seek redress. This can only be a good thing, not just for consumers, but for forward-thinking companies that value their brands and reputations”.

Commenting on the report Vikki Zelkin, head of client services, promotions and incentives at The Grass Roots Group, said: "It’s clear that the stiff upper lip the British are famous for has softened, and our culture for suffering in silence has dissipated. The fact that so many of these complaints were made online suggests that social media has truly offered a platform through which we can vent our frustration about bad service and publically out brands who get it wrong. It’s clear that millions of unhappy consumers are taking to Twitter or Facebook as a way to gain a company’s attention, publically sharing any and all of their less than satisfactory experiences. Brands quite literally face public naming and shaming – clearly visible to existing and potential new customers – and must be prepared to deal with the fallout of consequential reputational damage.

“Mistakes can happen, errors resulting in unhappy customers can be unavoidable – but it is how complaints are handled that matters most when it comes to retaining customers. If not handled well, customers can turn away to the welcoming arms of your competitors. To avoid this, the right customer service strategy and considered execution is imperative.”

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