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Problems with retail, energy and telecoms are on the rise

The retail sector received the highest number of complaints this year, with online shopping causing the most problems

Despite consumers having made almost double the number of complaints about businesses than last year, they are increasingly choosing not to raise issues directly with companies, the Ombudsman Services has found.

The average number of complaints has risen to 4.2 per person this year, compared with 2.5 in 2018, according to the latest Consumer Action Monitor report – a record number in the report’s six-year history.

One in five customers (21%) also say they trust businesses less now than they did a year ago.

Of the people who did complain, most did so about the retail sector – 24% regarding offline experiences and 20% online – followed by energy (13%) and telecoms (12%).

Our research into broadband, energy companies and shopping has found big differences between the best and worst rated companies. One of the biggest differences was between high street shops, with an almost 40% difference in customer score.    

Complaining about a company

Complaining fills half the population with dread according to the research. Instead people are switching to other providers, suffering in silence or taking to social media to air their grievances, rather than making an official complaint to a company.

The majority of people (88%) believe that new technology should make it easier to complain, but 60% of those asked still think that traditional complaints (such as in person or over the phone) work better.

People say they will continue using these methods because there is a need for the ‘human touch’.

For younger people however, Twitter and Facebook is the most popular place to complain. Around three in five (57%) millennials believe that companies are more approachable this way.

Two-thirds (67%) of vulnerable consumers don’t even know where to begin when it comes to raising issues with a company, Ombudsman Services found.

Around six in ten (63%) find the complaints process highly stressful. An overwhelming seven in ten (70%) of vulnerable consumers ‘suffered in silence’ and did not complain at all.

How to complain if things go wrong

The retail sector received the largest share of complaints this year, from both online and in-store shoppers.

One in five (20%) online deliveries are late, according to our research into delivery companies. With 14% of online shoppers telling Which? that their package never arrived at all.

If you’ve bought something online and your delivery has gone missing, you should complain to the retailer that you made the purchase from. This is the case even if your missing parcel might have been caused by poor service from the courier.

You can use our template letter to complain about undelivered goods.

If you’ve had issues with a shop such as faulty items you have a right to a refund or replacement. You can read up on your shopping rights to make sure you don’t lose out.

Broadband and energy customers are also unhappy. When we’ve surveyed consumers, inaccurate bills and meter readings were among the most common problems energy customers faced.

Many broadband customers also face outages, with our research recently naming Virgin Media as the worst for this.

If you’ve received a bill from your energy or broadband provider that you think is incorrect or unfair, you can dispute it with your provider. It’s also worth considering switching for a better experience.

Switch energy, broadband or mobile provider for a better service

If you haven’t been able to resolve your issue by complaining, you might be able to get a better service (and price) by switching.

If you’re looking to change your energy provider, the Which? Switch tool can help you compare and switch energy suppliers.

Or if your broadband provider isn’t up to scratch, you can use the Which? Switch Broadband tool to find the best broadband, phone and TV packages where you live.

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