Fewer than half of people who experienced an issue with an online retailer consider social media, online chatbots and text as efficient communication methods, Which? research has found.
We surveyed more than 5,000 consumers who experienced an issue with an order when shopping with the biggest online retailers across tech, fashion, DIY and homewares between March 2020 and March 2021.
We asked participants which communication methods – from emails and chatbots to text messages and Twitter – were the most effective when trying to get issues resolved.
Here, we reveal the most and least efficient communication methods for getting your problems sorted as painlessly as possible.
Tweeting into the void
You might think that publicly shaming an unresponsive retailer on Twitter is the best way to get their attention, but our findings suggest otherwise.
Fewer than half of participants who had used a social channel to complain about an issue stated that it was effective. And around a third said that it was inefficient in helping them rectify their problem.
A DFS customer told us that they were less than impressed when the retailer ignored their complaint entirely: ‘I contacted their social media and saw they were replying to others, but ignored my request.’
The only communication method with a worse score was sending a letter by post. Just under four in 10 of consumers who had tried this method stated it was effective, and four in 10 stated that it was ineffective.
- Find out more: best and worst online retailers for resolving complaints
Chatbots and text messages
From WhatsApp messages to 24/7 chatbots, many online retailers have invested in new and innovative communication methods in recent years – but these channels might not be as effective as you hope.
Just under half of participants who used an online chat bot (often popping up when you’re browsing on some retailers’ websites) said that it was efficient, while a third said it was ineffective.
Text messaging scored similarly, with just under half of those who texted retailers with their complaint saying it was effective and a third suggesting that you might not want to bother.
One Very customer told us: ‘I had to talk to an online chat bot, which generates messages instead of being able to talk to an actual human, to have a conversation and get a faster answer.’
While texting didn’t score highly, some participants did have a good experience when contacting online retailers’ WhatsApp numbers. Retailers such as Boohoo, John Lewis and New Look now have WhatsApp numbers you can message to speak with customer service advisors.
One New Look shopper was pleased with the swift response to their message: ‘I spoke to it via WhatsApp and it issued me a refund straight away and told me to keep the item I had received. They also gave me a code to get 5% off and free delivery on my next purchase.’
‘Currys/PC World chat bot sent me strange responses’
Mark ordered a television from Currys/PC World costing £499 on 11 August 2021. Before it was delivered, Mark changed his mind and contacted Currys/PC World to cancel the order.
Although the TV was returned to Currys/ PC World, Mark has been battling to get a refund for the cancelled order. He contacted Currys/PC World via the chatbot three times to try and find out when he will be refunded and said that he received strange responses on the chatbot and felt no closer to getting his money back.
The second time he used the service, he tried to use the function that allows customers to download a transcript of their conversation so that he could have the conversation in writing – but was disappointed to find that this function didn’t actually work.
Mark told us: ‘I popped in my email address, but then checked my spam folder and inbox, and there was nothing there. I resorted to doing screen grabs because the way things were proceeding it was like these conversations via chatbot had never happened.
‘Just an email saying you’re going to get your money back, bear with us would be nice. It’s got £500 of my money and the TV, and haven’t even sent me anything to say the refund is in hand or the process is moving on.’
Which? got in touch with Currys/PC World about Mark’s issue and he’s since been told his refund is being processed.
Currys/PC World told us around 25% of its customer issues are resolved via chatbots or webchat, but it recognises that there’s nothing better than speaking to a colleague over the phone or face-to-face. Moving forward, it will encourage customers to go into stores to resolve their issues.
It also apologised for Mark’s delayed refund and says that it has recently undertaken a quality assurance review to ensure that processes are followed and issues are remedied quickly.
Speaking directly with staff is best
If you want your complaint dealt with fuss-free, our research suggests speaking directly with an actual member of staff is the best way of doing so.
Face-to-face communication proved to be the most efficient way of rectifying an issue, with two thirds of consumers who tried this stating it was effective. Only one in five said that it was inefficient.
One Marks & Spencer customer described their experience: ‘Very professional and efficient in-store staff dealing with return of items ordered online which didn’t fit.’
Similarly, two thirds of consumers who spoke with a real person via an online chat said that this was effective and only a quarter said that it wasn’t.
Speaking over the phone scored similar results, with six in 10 consumers who called a customer service line saying it was efficient and a quarter saying that it was ineffective at getting their issue sorted.
One Amazon customer said: ‘All it took was one phone call about an item and it was resolved there and then.’
Emails and online forms were somewhat useful – six in 10 participants who emailed said it was effective, while just over half who used online forms thought this method was efficient.
But some found that their emails were too easy to ignore and were forced to try alternative methods of communication. One Homebase customer said: ‘It didn’t answer my email, so I had to phone them.’
While sending an email or a tweet might be effective at times, it’s loud and clear that speaking directly with an online retailer is the most efficient route to redress.
- Find out more: best and worst shops
How to get your issue resolved
- 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 issue, too, as it’s the retailer’s responsibility to get your items to you not the courier’s. Take note of our survey results – you may have to try a few communication methods to get your issue heard. And it may be best to try and speak with a customer service member of staff face to face or via online chat, or a call line if possible.
- 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 a credit card. And if you paid by debit card, you can try 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.