/ Shopping, Technology

Shops – get clued-up on consumer rights

Broken iPhone

The Office of Fair Trading’s new educational ‘hub’ to teach retailers about consumer rights is a great idea in theory. But can we rely on shop staff to educate themselves?

So, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has launched an online ‘hub’ designed to give retailers a complete crash course in consumer rights – specifically, the Sale of Goods Act (SOGA).

This is a catch-all consumer law, covering everything from taking faulty products back, product guarantees and who has to prove a product is faulty.

Excellent news… but of course this does actually depend on people using it.

How good is the hub?

I’m never going to criticise OFT for initiatives ultimately designed to protect consumers. And the hub is comprehensive – everything from 15-minute training sessions to download to a flow chart showing how to deal with unhappy customers. There’s even a section for consumers so they can be prepared if things go wrong.

This is needed, especially as SOGA is rather vague. For example, what would you define a ‘reasonable’ length of time to expect your products to last? Under the Act, it’s up to six years (five in Scotland), but would a £10 toaster really be expected to last that long? Incidentally, the hub doesn’t answer that question outright (as really, no one can) but it at least gives a steer.

The fact and fiction of consumer rights

Here at Which? we’re all too aware that some shops may tell you complete fiction about your rights. This may be more down to ignorance than intention, though. Back in February we did a snapshot test of how much shop staff knew about consumer rights and found some worrying results.

Staff turnover in the retail industry is high, so companies may not want to spend time and money on training for them to then disappear. But where does that leave us consumers who simply want the security of knowing we’re being given the right information?

At least OFT’s latest venture makes it harder for shops to wriggle out of improving by muttering ‘we’ll ensure better training, sorry’ and hope we forget about it. Now it’s there at their fingertips!

But my main concern about the ‘hub’ is that shop staff have to be motivated to use it. Plus, the companies themselves need to promote and encourage it. I’m not saying that they’re not going to try, but frankly, there’s no way of knowing. What I’d like to see is OFT standing up for the consumer and enforcing against shops when they get it wrong.

So for now let’s praise OFT for its efforts, but not take it as read that the shops will appreciate it as much as I do. Use the hub yourself, take a look at the Which? guides to consumer rights and if you’re an iPhone user, download our app to use in-store. Because, while I still stand by the view that shops are responsible for giving you the correct information, it doesn’t hurt to stay educated.

pickle says:
17 September 2010

I think I will keep reading Which? to ensure I’m up to date with the latest consumer rights – you can’t trust the shop assistants!

Surely WE should also be clear on our consumer rights – not simply leave it to a shop assistant? Isn’t it our responsibility too?

That said – never had a problem taking something back for repair or replacement.

Absolutely! That’s why we produce so much advice and information to help consumers get clued up on their rights (see links above). Still, it’s important we don’t get fobbed off by uninformed shop assistants.

Mrs M says:
15 February 2011

(this might be a little too specific to answer on here) if i pay £42,500 for a new car, have it serviced as specified in the warranty at the franchised dealer where i purchased it – would it be reasonable to expect that it not suffer a major breakdown & be off the road with an expected repair bill of £1,300.00 within 5 months of it’s 3 year warranty ending? i am being offered some level of goodwill towards repairs by the dealer/manufacturer but at the moment i expect to have to pay 25% of the repair bill.

Years ago I tried to get VW to do something about my five year old Golf because some of the panels had faded badly, whereas others were still bright red. Friends assumed that the car must have been in an accident but I had owned it from new. VW rejected my claim on the basis that the fading was due to how I had used the car. I never did work out how I could have used parts of the car in different ways.

We could do with some success stories that illustrate that the public can get something done about products that fail prematurely. I see the Sale of Goods Act in the same light as the Advertising Standards Authority – comforting in theory but of little practical use.

Mrs M says:
1 November 2011

(forgot i’d asked on here, latest post prompted an email so i thought i’d update) after i pushed the dealership, i ended up paying £200 of a probable £1600 repair bill. i did mention SOGA & making a complaint if they didn’t increase their goodwill offer, but no further action was required.