Online complaints vie with blasts from the past

Lots of things drive people to make complaints. It’s not just businesses or industries getting things wrong (though that’s the main one). Sometimes it’s a small problem that got bigger, like not being able to speak to someone at a business to sort out a minor issue. Some enlightened businesses actively encourage people to talk to them. And let’s not forget the activities of those fee-charging complaint management companies that are actively encouraging people to make complaints for cash – and not doing very much while cashing in.

Debits often don't match orders. Picture: Getty

But the things that people complain about can also tell us a lot about how we’re changing – and reveal new problems that businesses need to address.

One example of this is online shopping. For the first time ever, complaints about online shopping eclipsed ones about shopping on the high street – over 110,000 of them. That’s a huge number of cases, making online shopping the third most complained about subject after PPI and flight delays. What’s driving these complaints? Well mainly it’s problems with faulty goods, misrepresentation and terrible customer service. Refunds and incorrectly debited cash also figure quite highly with a worryingly increasing number of complaints about goods that were debited but not ordered.

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But there’s more to this than meets the eye. We’ve also seen an increase of over 200 per cent of complaints about delivery companies (35,339 cases). So not only are people having a problem with online shops, they’re also having problems with the way that goods get sent to them. We’ve all heard complaints about package deliveries in recent years – from items left in bins to overstretched and underpaid employees breaking items in transit.

Scroll a bit further down Resolver’s top 100 stats and you might spot a new entry on the chart. We received 2,627 complaints about store credit – or “buy now, pay later”. In the past lots of people made purchases using catalogues. This form of credit was expensive, complicated and it was easy to get in to trouble with debt quickly. Flash forward to 2019 and shop credit has undergone a massive transformation. High-interest credit has now been repackaged as a “lifestyle” choice, where shops give you lots of ways to pay to fit your busy lives.

Look a little closer though and those choices are the same old interest-free credit traps from previous times. Shop credit works on the basis that we think we’re going to pay things off while there’s no interest, but then forget, have a cash flow problem or pay the minimum assuming that it’ll clear the debt in time. The vast majority of us won’t, despite our best intentions, leaving us with debts and 40 per cent interest rates or more.

In just three years, these new areas of complaint have exploded as we’ve succumbed to the convenience of shopping online and shops have evolved to get us to keep spending. This means that a savvy shopper needs to keep on top of the new tricks of the trade to avoid being caught out.

I’ll be writing about the tips to learn and tricks to watch out for over the coming weeks in this area and in many others. But I’d love to hear your views on the new ways companies make us pay – so get in touch.

Check out and share your experiences at [email protected]

James Walker is the founder of online complaint-resolution service