Good customer service from online retailers has been more important than ever during the pandemic while high streets have been shut.
We surveyed more than 5,000 UK consumers who experienced issues when ordering from the biggest online retailers across tech, lifestyle, fashion, DIY and homewares during the pandemic.*
Tellingly, retailers who didn’t manage to resolve issues efficiently could have a hard time winning customers back.
One in ten told us they’re unlikely to return to a retailer they experience an issue with if it fails to deal with the problem, while seven in ten said they feel more loyal to retailers who were reliable and accommodating during the pandemic.
More than half of participants believe some online retailers used Covid-19 as an excuse for poor customer service.
Here, we reveal the retailers who impressed shoppers with their commitment to customer care throughout the pandemic and those whose service leaves much to be desired.
- View the full star ratings table for the best and worst online retailers for dealing with customer complaints
Sports Direct, Homebase and The Range score one star
From unresponsive customer support lines to non-existent complaints procedures, some online retailers’ make you wish you ordered elsewhere.
Nine retailers in our survey – JD Sports, Funky Pigeon, Appliances Direct, Scan, Homebase, Debenhams, Carphone Warehouse, The Range and Sports Direct – scored just one star out of five for overall service, landing at the bottom of our table.
- Sports Direct scored a single star for the helpfulness of its staff and its convoluted complaints process following problems with returns and missing deliveries. One in five customers said they’d be unlikely to shop there once lockdown restrictions have lifted.
- JD Sports customers similarly crabbed about returns and delivery issues. One customer told us they lost out when their shoes weren’t delivered and they couldn’t get through to anyone. ‘I tried a few times but it felt futile so I just gave up and lost the £60,’ they said.
- Delivery fails and faulty goods were the main pain points for The Range customers. One in five said they weren’t happy with the solutions offered to their problems. ‘I had to keep chasing them or my order and they had no interest in helping me,’ a vexed customer explained.
- One in four Carphone Warehouse customers who had an issue with it were incorrectly charged or billed during the pandemic. Shockingly, three in ten of its customers told us they felt the mobile phone retailer didn’t believe their issue was genuine when they complained, while one in five said they didn’t feel fairly treated.
- And one in five Homebase customers said they’re unlikely to shop with the retailer after experiencing issues. The DIY-chain scored a paltry one star for the helpfulness of its staff and its confusing complaints process. A less-than-impressed customer recalled: ‘My goods arrived damaged and I was given contradictory instructions from different members of customer service.’
The shopping sites that got it right
Swift refunds, reliable communication and accommodating staff: good customer service ensures your issue is ironed out as quickly and as painlessly as possible.
Screwfix and M&S excelled in our survey, scoring top marks across the board for helpfulness of staff, speed of resolution, efficiency and access to customer support.
Amazon and John Lewis also impressed customers, scoring five stars for helpfulness of customer support and access to customer service. Next scored a consistent four stars across each category.
Almost all of the other top performing brands – including AO, Dunelm, Moonpig and Pets at Home – scored four stars for accessible customer care and speedy resolutions – proving that fast, no-fuss customer service is enough to keep you on board even if an online order goes wrong.
Take a look at the full star ratings table to find out how other online retailers fared.
JD Sports says lockdown periods stimulated a surge in online orders resulting in unprecedented levels of demand, while social distancing measures meant there were reduced numbers of colleagues in distribution centres.
The Range told us it’s proud of its staff for supporting the nation during a challenging period and that it increased its customer service operation considerably. It will be reviewing its processes as a result of our survey.
Homebase said it’s disappointed to hear the results and says its team members worked hard to get deliveries back on track after national lockdowns put huge pressure on retailers, delivery companies and suppliers.
Carphone Warehouse told us customers had multiple ways to get in touch with its customer service teams and that it extended its returns window when lockdown was lifted. It also introduced Order & Collect from its stores making it easier for customers to get products.
Sports Direct was contacted for a comment but it did not respond.
- Find out more: best and worst shops
Will our online shopping habits stick?
High streets might be back open – but will we continue to do the lion’s share of our shopping online?
Our survey in May 2021 of 1,246 Which? members found that more than one in five (22%) had continued shopping online for all the goods they would have bought in store before lockdown. Half of shoppers (48%) said they’d kept shopping online for some goods, while just three in 10 had switched back to the high street for everything.
‘Research often finds something called consumer inertia, which means that once a consumer is used to something, like buying their socks online, it often takes a specific nudge or change to alter that behavior,’ Janina Steinmetz, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at Cass Business School told us.
‘The pandemic provided such a nudge toward online shopping, and the simple re-opening of stores is often not enough to nudge people back,’ she said.
Janina believes the quality of customer service plays an important part in determining where shoppers will go next.
‘In all of this, customer service is definitely really important, because that’s something that consumers have been skeptical about when it comes to online shopping.
‘If consumers have now experienced that a specific company provides good online customer service, that can really make a difference. On the other hand, if a company provides bad service, an already pandemic-stressed consumer might be even more wary of that company,’ she explained.
It’s clear online retailers who are falling short must up their game if they want customers to keep placing orders.
- Find out more: have our shopping habits changed since lockdown?
How to complain about an online retailer
Whether you’ve had a missing order or a faulty or unwanted product, here’s what you can do to get your issue sorted.
- Collect evidence Photos of damaged parcels or faulty products, screenshots of conversations with customer service teams via Twitter and ‘live chat’, and order confirmation emails will help you build a bank of evidence. If you speak to someone on the phone, ask for a written summary or confirmation of what’s been said.
- Contact the retailer Get in touch with the retailer as soon as possible about your issue. This is true for delivery issues too, as it’s the retailer’s responsibility to get your items to you, not the courier’s.
- Make a Section 75 or chargeback claim You can make a Section 75 claim against your credit card provider for any item between £100 and £30,000 if you paid using that credit card. And if you paid by debit card you can attempt a chargeback claim. There is a time limit on chargeback claims – typically 120 days from the transaction processing date, or from when you expected to receive the goods/service if it’s being delivered.
- Go to the Ombudsman and Trading Standards Ombudsmen can act as independent referees, looking at both sides of the dispute in order to offer a solution. If you think the retailer has broken the law or acted unfairly, you can also report this to Trading Standards.
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*In May 2021 we surveyed 5,053 members of the public to find out how efficiently 68 of the largest online retailers dealt with issues and complaints about online orders between 23 March 2020 and 31 March 2021.