/ Consumer Rights, Shopping

What’s the most effective way to complain?

A woman expresses frustration over a complaint gone wrong

Many companies offer a multitude of contact methods from contact forms to chatbots to contact numbers. Which one do you find most effective to be heard?

We’ve all had an experience when shopping that we wish we never had. 

Whether it’s complaining about the quality of a product or a misleading description, we’ve all complained about something. But when it comes to raising a complaint, what’s the best way to do it?

Many businesses offer up a variety of ways for customers to get in touch. Online forms, chatbots, social media messages, phone lines and through the post; contacting the company isn’t the issue. Getting heard can be. 

Over the past year phone lines have been closed and disclaimers added to email responses as Covid interrupted the normal functioning of customer support. But as we emerge from the pandemic, you can argue that this excuse simply doesn’t cut it anymore.

Being heard or on hold?

With so many ways to communicate with a company, it can be tricky to know the best, or most suitable way to raise a complaint. By burying online forms and narrowing the choices down to a handful of options, some companies could even subtly convince you that complaining just isn’t worth the effort.

Phone lines are often the most direct way of contacting a company, but how long are you left on hold? Do chatbots just chat? Where do online forms even go? If you’ve got an issue you would like help to sort out, let us know.

We’d like to find out your tried and tested methods of complaining to an online retailer. It could be about anything, from getting a refund you’re owed, a delivery gone wrong or a service that wasn’t up to scratch.

Share your tips

We’re not sure there is a cast iron guarantee that one way of complaining is better than another, so we’d like to find out from you on the ways you use to raise a complaint. Get in touch using the details below and let us know how you complain.

Consumers we’ve helped out have featured in the Which? Mag or in one of our ‘Put to Rights’ features. If you have a problem you think would make for a good story, or you simply want to warn others about a particular issue, get in touch using the email address below.

What do you find is the most effective way to complain to a retailer about a purchase?
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If you’re trying to bring attention to your consumer issue, let us know in the comments below or email us at yourstory@which.co.uk and we can help sort it.


I wish more retail businesses would implement WhatsApp for Business. Chatting via WhatsApp is better than web-based chat, for several reasons:

1. WhatsApp gives you an automatic record of the conversation.
2. With web-based chat, you the continuity of the chat if there’s a technical problem and have to start again, which by design can’t happen with WhatsApp.
3. You can continue the conversation from anywhere with WhatsApp.

I usually prefer to contact companies and other organisations by phone. This is becoming more difficult now that there is often a recorded message advising me to use the website. Usually the reason I’m calling is that there is no relevant information on the website!

I would make more use of email if a proper email address was provided rather than a contact form. A contact form is unlikely to allow images to be attached and most provide no way of recording the contents of my message. My understanding is that companies are required to provide an email address and if so, please could someone let me of the relevant legislation.

I have used online chat but have found it painfully slow. I have no intention of using Facebook, Twitter or WhatApp to contact companies.

Kevin says:
16 August 2021

I believe the guidance is for companies to have either an online form, and/or an email address

Surprisingly, some well known companies have neither. Sainsbury has a tedious query driven process which eventually, if you don’t give up in frustration, leads to these options:
By phone [good luck with that]
Via Facebook
Via Twitter
Via British Sign Language

I agree with your feelings about using ‘social media’ companies, but it seems Sainburys are quite happy to force their customers to be profiled by these unaccountable and unethical multinationals

If you can find any official information about the requirements or guidance to companies I would be very grateful, Kevin. I’ve been using email for over 30 years and am very happy with the way that I can look back at previous correspondence, even if the is years ago. Having to use online forms removes this convenience. One of the reasons given for using forms is that proper email can result in business receiving spam. We all have to cope with spam, and service providers filter out much of it these days.

Schedule 2 of the Consumer Contracts Regulations sets out all the information and contact details online retailers are supposed to provide, although it has plenty of loopholes https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2013/3134/schedule/2/made

As an aside, it is curious how much relatively modern consumer legislation still sets out the requirement for a fax number…

Kevin says:
16 August 2021

Hi Wavechange
I saw some official guidance a while back but do not recall the url, however this seems to me to actually mandate an email contact on an online sales website?


“Before an order is placed”
You must:

give your email address

Thanks very much, Kevin. Next time I’m confronted with an online form I will use it to request an email address and provide a link to this official information.

Thanks too to Adam. I had not seen your post but will look at these regulations. It would be helpful if Which? decided what consumers could reasonably expect and pushed for this to happen, where necessary. It’s not long since I disposed of my fax machine.

Where an email address is most important is for existing customers who may have a query or complaint.

Good to know Kevin, thank you.

Sainsbury delivery drivers tended not to wear face covering or gloves all through covid and lockdown, while at the same time Sainsburys emphasised that shop customers and staff should wear face masks. I tried to raise this with Sainsburys by email, including to Chief ex, and on facebook. Sainsburys would not answer or engage. The only response I got was that they could not instruct their delivery drivers and customers could ask driver, well that doesn’t work. Couldn’t really understand this as they instructed shop staff to wear masks and customers were not allowed access if they had no mask. Sainsbury web sight only allows complaints about delivered products, not service or rudeness.

” I have no intention of using Facebook, Twitter or WhatApp to contact companies.” Well said!!
The least these insidious, parasitic organisations are used for anything, the better.

I agree, social media is unaccountable and unethical. Its a shame so many cannot see it including Which who promote its use especially Facebook. In Sainsburys case I would write a personal letter of complaint and mail it – the old fashioned way. They would never find my profile on Facebook.

I remember when fax machines became affordable, sometime in the 90’s I think, for the home user and it was always one of my preferred ways of sending off a letter of complaint or getting the attention of a Director or Chairman of a company. Usually got the result I wanted.

There is usually an option that gets you though to a real person quickly. Depending on the service it might be, for example, ‘sales’, ‘card lost or stolen’ or even ‘report a bereavement’. It’s usually quicker for the person you reach to transfer the call internally than wait forever to get through to the ‘right’ number.

On the contact form, I take a screen shot before I send.

A first port of call would be the phone; this often resolves problems or determines what needs to be done to clarify a complaint. But answering a phone call needs to be relatively quick or offer a call back. Government agencies can be particularly bad.

If more detail is needed then an email; all companies should provide that service (“Three” recently told me they don’t). Thar allows me time to compose my case and add any attachments, as well as keeping a written record of proceedings.

Chatbot – no; it often takes far too long

Social media – I don’t use most of it and Whatsapp only for family and friends.

Letter – if there is no email contact but it takes too long – and why when email is fast and free?

Customer service – whether business or public service – should be respected and properly staffed.

One thing I can’t stand is if I try and phone a company I get confronted with some totally useless automated system which only shoves wall after wall in my way and enrages me, especially when it’s a stupid voice activated system and it won’t work with my voice and keeps demanding that I repeat myself which I’m not going to do, and even some live staff are the same and are totally impossible to talk to, or else there’s far too much excruciating noise in the background, or even worse I get put on hold and they start playing some absolutely excruciating excuse for “music” like they play in far too many shops, so I have no choice but to abort the call which I shouldn’t have to do. And then there’s the webforms which will let me spend the best part of an HOUR typing my message and struggling to correct all the appalling errors which constantly happen when I try and type anything, and then I try and send it only to find it refuses and blocks me! Or else if they provide an email address I try using that only to be completely ignored. And some time ago, too long ago now to try and sort it, I ordered an LED floodlight from a firm in Chorley only to find it was the wrong one, not as advertised on the site or on the box it arrived in, and once again my emails were only totally ignored, so I tried phoning only to get some stupid recording telling me I can’t leave any messages! Just what do you do with idiots like that?! And what do you do if your local mp constantly ignores all your letters and emails? No matter what the subject or how polite you are?

Always start by being polite and friendly.

I don’t complain via social media but do use all the other types of contact. It depends on the nature of the complaint.

Sometimes you really do need to talk to a person, so tell a phone bot enough times you want to ‘speak to someone’ and they generally comply.

Live chat sometimes works well and you can be passed to someone else who will sort you out. Always have your initial statement ready to cut & paste at the start of the chat along with any other questions you might want to ask. Being cut off in the middle of the chat is a pain so I frequently copy the conversation and paste it into a document to keep a record.

Other times it is good to use email to maintain a record of your complaint and I always attach photos if they strengthen or prove my case. Ocado get quite a few especially meat, fruit and veg photos, because although they don’t quibble over refunds, it shows them they have a problem with their supplier and not just a complaining customer.

If a package turns up looking battered I take photos. Everything we have bought during Covid has been delivered and we are not always the first customer to have taken receipt of the item, so sometimes I take photos of opening the box. If I buy something new, I expect it to be new, not refurbished or previously used. I bought a new bread machine last year that had obviously been used before as it had food splashes on it. It also had a jagged edge so was returned and now I just make bread by hand. I am always very wary if a box has obviously been opened before as you don’t know what has befallen it in somebody else’s hands. Is it faulty? Has it been dropped?

Excellent advice, Alfa, especially the first sentence. I always work on the premise that you want to keep the first responders on side.

I put myself in the position of the person at the other end of the phone and talk to them as I would like to be spoken to. If they can’t, or won’t, help then best to talk to speak to someone higher or use email.

Occasionally, you can sense customer service people have been having a bad day and are relieved to hear a friendly voice. They are then more likely to spend time with you sorting you out.

When our Sky boxes belonged to Sky, it was always a real challenge to stay polite to Sky first tier support when all you wanted to do was yell at them.🤬 When a box was faulty, it was replaced by another supposedly-repaired faulty box, and we frequently had several visits in a week as they kept swapping boxes. Then we bought our own HD box (now 2) and have not had to deal with them for TV viewing for a very long time now.

That dreadful experience is why we won’t switch to Sky Q. We have 2 HD boxes that record at different times so we don’t lose recordings in bad weather and we can choose which TV we want to watch them on. Sky Q boxes belong to Sky so if they have a problem will be replaced by another second-hand box that has supposedly been repaired. I can’t face that very stressful rigmarole again.

Sky keep trying to get us to switch but I always tell them – not until we can have 2 recordable boxes. They try to con you into saying you can record from 2 boxes, but there can only be one recording – on the main box.

This is exactly my way of thinking, having worked in a call centre before. I understand both sides of it but very well put Malcolm

If you are asking for help then it should be fairly obvious that it is best to be polite. I have on occasions been standing at a customer services desk waiting my turn behind a rude customer. It must be stressful dealing with the public. You are well out of it, Chirag.

One thing I hate is not getting ANY satisfactory response, or even any at all from stores whenever I complain about the absolutely excruciating excuse for so-called “music” that they constantly insist on playing every opening minute and won’t turn off. And of course I politely remind them of their legal obligations under the so-called “equality” act and of course I’m thoroughly polite with them, and I once had a 45 minute conversation on the phone, and they rang me, with the head office of toolstation and they just didn’t want to know and wouldn’t be told when I suggested that they start a quiet hour each day, or on certain days etc. and that was several years ago and their stores are still the same, and it’s the same with countless other stores, especially the most essential ones, food stores, household goods stores, diy/trade stores, especially the chain stores. And it all too often leads to appalling situations like this, where I live there’s a small local hardware shop and they sell paint among other stuff, and they don’t have any dreadful noise playing, but they charge nearly three times as much for paint than the price charged by the local branch of b&m stores a couple of miles away, but they constantly play stupid insane brutal torturing radio all day , every day, making the store inaccessible for anyone like me. And the hardware store charges more than twice as screwfix charge for electric cables but again screwfix constantly play garbage “music” which these days is totally IMpossible to listen to without it being absolutely intolerable torture because of the absolute obsession with brutal torturing sound effects like constant finger-clicks which countless numbers of the masses keep referring to as somehow “relaxing”, well what absolute INSANITY! It absolutely RIPS your skull apart! But no-one will listen, not even the local mp, but I don’t know if it’s her own attitude or if she’s been forcibly silenced by someone further up the ranks. Either way I’m being forcibly denied democracy which in this country is NOT “subject to status”, but far too many seem to think so, it seems to be the case that you don’t get anywhere complaining unless you have some fancy status and far too many service providers think they’re meeting their “equality” obligations just because they can get a wheelchair through their doors. Well there’s FAR more to it than that and I’m absolutely SICK and TIRED of being just casually swept aside and under the proverbial carpet out of sight and totally ignored. Disabled lives MATTER!

[edited] Also, what the hell has you being disabled got to do with ‘garbage music’? If the music really bothers you that much, just take some headphones and listen to whatever the hell you like.

[Moderator: we have edited this comment to remove a sentence attacking another user. Please aim to respect differences of opinion and attack the argument being made, not the person making it. For more information see the Community guidelines]

I completely agree. With DIY firms like Screwfix I use click and collect, which minimises the pain. Anywhere I’m approached with a ‘Can I help you?’ I ask politely for the music to be turned off. It sometimes works, if it doesn’t I walk out.

Have you ever noticed how s’fix have a clause on their click and collect page which says your photo id “MUST be your passport or driving licence”, well some of us don’t have either document so that is discrimination. So I contacted s’fix about this and they were quite happy to still serve me when click and collecting but they haven’t changed the wording on their click and collect page, but I think it’s controlled by their parent company, a dutch multi-national who also own b&q who also have the same discriminatory wording on their site too, and when I tried complaining using their webform it let me spend the best part of an hour struggling to type a complaint only for it to be arrogantly blocked so it couldn’t be sent, how outrageous is THAT?!

I can only see this requirement for PayPal purchases:
“If using PayPal, you must bring photo ID, such as a Driving Licence or Passport (the name on the ID must match the name details in the payments section of the order).”

Many people do not have a passport or photocard driving licence. It’s worth discussing this with Screwfix. I ran into this problem when my solicitor asked for photo ID when I was buying a house but they accepted a document with my photo on.

I realised the problem of confirmation of identity recently in The Lobby after struggling to find a recent utility bill or bank statement, now that most of my life is run online.

Best of luck, Crusader. I would be interested to know what Screwfix have to say.

I was going to post the same – I don’t see the word MUST.

And it is not discrimination because it does not target and is unlikely to disadvantage any particular group who share a protected characteristic, any more than any other customer who does not drive or hold a passport, or have any alternative form of photo ID they can use.

It is also justifiable to protect PayPal account holders from fraud, especially since other forms of payment are available.

If it is a real problem not having an official photo ID, apply for a Citizen Card. Better yet, press the Government to introduce a national ID card.

Phone: Stopped doing this as kept waiting too long. When phone is answered person at other end – call centre – usually junior non specialist person can respond only from directions on their in house screen. No Supervisor or specialist ever available. Never get promised call back.

E-Mail: Rarely use now as Replies too often come from ‘noreply’

Best Solution (my experience): Registered Letter to CEO and copy to Regulator.

TalkTalk recently thanked me by email for my subscription to Talktalk TV, which I had not done. They followed up with a letter telling me to enjoy my new Talktalk TV. I spent over half an hour on the phone being told I could just ignore these communications as I wasn’t subscribed. I said this false communication was not acceptable and I could not trust TalkTalk not to start direct debits. In the end I was cut off having waited ages to be transferred to a supervisor. So I printed the email, put it with the letter and posted it to TalkTalk with my complaint written on it but with no stamp, so they would have to pay for it. Only then did I get a phone call from TalkTalk acknowledging my legitimate complaint.

Susan Young says:
20 August 2021

When I worked on information and advice for AgeUK and CAB we were told to advise people to write a letter to the complaints department, send letters by recorded delivery and keep all correspondence so that if you weren’t getting anywhere by other methods (keep dates of any contacts) you could then take it to the ombudsman or threaten that you would take it to them as you had proof you had tried to remedy the situation.

Doesnt it rather depend on what communication options are available? To some extent it also depends on the size of the organisation, the nature of your complaint, whether a guarantee or warranty is still valid and what sort of outcome you expect. In a recent example I had to contact Aqualisa because their digital shower control is not functioning properly. It had already developed a fault under warranty and was fixed for free. Two years later it developed the same fault. I preferred to telephone them because I needed to find out if it was still under the original warranty or if the repair itself had a guarantee period. The answer was no to both. It was suggested I could fork out c£500 for a new one. Like hell. I think I will get in touch with Which legal help and see what they say.

You have five or six years during which you can make a claim under the Consumer Rights Act: https://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/advice/what-do-i-do-if-i-have-a-faulty-product-aTTEK2g0YuEy

This is not a guarantee and you may be asked to provide an independent report about the nature of the fault. I hope you are successful.

I have Aqualisa showers and discovered that spares are expensive although nothing has failed so far.

Depends on the problem. If an 0800 or standard landline do 1st. Email with or without threats 2nd. Trip Advisor 3rd for restaurants, hotels, holidays. In store 4th. Direct to management 5th, because they pass it down generally for an ‘also ran’ to deal with. Ombudsman 6th.

In response to Wavechange my practice when replying via a company’s form is to copy my reply and store in in Word or similar. It is important to have a record of ones conversations etc. and being able to print a copy of what could be a lengthy conversation via a chatline is really useful. This year I saved £100 by being able to point to a verbal promise made on a chatline.

That’s exactly what I did when I started using online chat, Ron. It’s not difficult but I see it as inconvenient and a waste of my time. Congratulations on winning £100. 🙂

I hate hoop jumping says:
23 August 2021

Was introduced to the Whatsapp route by John Lewis a while ago. I needed to advise them that an order of mine had arrived incomplete. After being asked a myriad of questions, I was told that someone would be in contact with me regarding my query. I was finally contacted the next day, only to be told that they were unable to help me on Whatsapp regarding the incomplete order and was advised to telephone customer services. But they had directed me to Whatsapp when I’d initially rang the customer services ??? This was some months ago and they may well have changed how they do things now but, even though I did get the problem sorted, I was not impressed by the hoop jumping! Please make up your minds retailers…either solve all queries on a service or don’t use that service at all.

Martin Ellis says:
5 February 2022

It seems to me that communications with big organisations are increasingly becoming unbalanced to the disadvantage of the consumer. For instance I recently received an email from Shell Energy Broadband telling me my account was in arrears. This was a mistake, but the email was from a “no reply” address so I could not email back. I used the phone, but the agent I spoke to was unaware of what turned out to be a “known issue” and tried to get me to pay twice.
Another recent instance was when first direct started making a charge for something never charged before for. They have removed the secure message facility, so I had to go through online chat and eventually received a phone call. The agent gave me a story that I accepted at first but later, with time to think, realised did not make sense. I I decided the only way to contact them was an old-fashioned physical letter and the reply I eventually received confirmed that the agent had been wrong. Email or secure message would have been so much better.