Online Shopping: When it goes wrong

I have been shopping online for around 20 years.  I was one of the first ones to go online for grocery shopping and I have had very few problems indeed.  I’ve had one or two, though, and thought it worthwhile sharing a few tips that may help when things go wrong.

Try a Friendly Approach First

To err is human, but to really foul things up takes a computer.  There is a huge range of issues that can happen when you buy online that would be easily dealt with if you were in a shop.  Anything is possible, however, if you are shopping online. Start by contacting the seller and asking what is going on.  Try these steps:

  1. Do not contact them while angry.  Shout into a pillow, go for a run, clean the oven or dig the garden – whatever it takes to make sure that you are in a cool and clear frame of mind.  You are more likely to be heard if you are calm and not shouty
  2. Have all reference numbers and details to hand, along with pencil or paper to take notes.  Sometimes you won’t have these, but have details such as postcode and phone number ready so that you can be found in their system.   
  3. Check that the person you are dealing with has the power to help you.  They may not have the authority to make big decisions.  Try and get through to someone who does have the ability to do things like cancel charges or refund money.  Don’t forget to write down their names.
  4. Be polite and friendly and ask what they can do to sort things out.  They may be able to help more than you think. 
  5. If someone goes the extra mile for you, make sure that you leave positive feedback for them. 

This will sort things out most of the time, and if a person or company sorts out problems without too much fuss then it’s worth going back to them again and again.  Mistakes happen, but good customer service is worth a lot!

And a quick note about threatening the legals – most customer service reps are okay and their job is to make the customer happy.  If, however, you threaten to take the legal route, then you will be passed straight to their legal team, whose job is to protect the firm and who do not care about keeping you happy. 

Get Reputable Advice

Just because your auntie’s dog walker’s cousin’s boyfriend tells you that you have certain rights, it doesn’t mean it’s true.  Unless you are confident that your auntie’s dog walker’s cousin’s boyfriend is a consumer law specialist, it may be worth checking out trusted advice.  Here are some links to places that can help when you have tried your best to get things sorted out, but you have had no luck. 

The Government – I am sure many are surprised, but the government’s official pages include advice on a lot of legal matters, including consumer rights.  Their pages are very clear and informative and worth checking out. 

Which – if you subscribe to their magazine, they have resources and advisors that will be able to help. 

Citizens Advice Bureau – you may find it difficult to get a face to face appointment as their resources are stretched these days, but their website has a wealth of up-to-date information.

Money Advice Service – this is always worth a quick look

Advice Now – this is an independent, non profit legal advice site for England and Wales

(Note – the legal system in England and Wales is different to the legal system in Scotland and also in Northern Ireland.  It’s worth making sure you’re getting the right advice for your area)

Know When to Quit

It really stings when you lose money and have no way of getting justice.  It doesn’t seem fair.  But sometimes you just lose. It may be that you have bought an item from eBay for 99p, and you need to return it, but the cost of postage is far more than the 99p and you won’t get the postage back.  Perhaps the firm has gone bust or they have moved and you can’t trace them.  Or it’s one of a dozen scams that litter online selling and there is no way of showing that you have been robbed.  Here are the things I consider when I think I need to quit.

  1. Will it cost more than the item is worth to carry on
  2. How much time will it take, and can I spare it from my life
  3. How much longer will it take to get it sorted out and can I deal with the stress for that long.

Getting dragged into a lengthy enquiry or a court case (some court cases can take years) can suck the soul out of you and sometimes you have to ask yourself, can I walk away with this and not let the unfinished business eat away at me?  Sometimes the choice is between losing and losing more.  I have never found myself in this position for sums great than £5, and I hope that you are luckier than me. 

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