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.