Protecting consumer rights brings benefits to retailers
As consumer minister, it should be no surprise that I am strongly committed to improving consumers understanding of their rights. As a government we work hard to find ways to educate people about their rights and encourage them to use them. By Kevin Brennan, Minister for Consumer Affairs
But it is never a case of consumer rights at the expense of profit and growth for businesses. Far from it. I strongly believe there is a real business case for doing everything we can to equip consumers with the knowledge they need to confidently exercise their rights.
Consumers who know their rights and are confident enough to use them are more likely to engage with shops and services and spend their cash. More shoppers making better informed choices drives competitive markets, leading to improvements and innovations in quality and efficiency and, ultimately, greater productivity and growth for individual businesses and the economy as a whole.
The need for this is even greater in these though economic times. That’s why, as we launch our ‘Know Your Consumer Rights’ campaign today, which is backed by a number of big-name retailers, it will be just as important to make sure we deliver the right messages to businesses as consumers.
In May and June last year, as part of research for this July’s Consumer White Paper, we carried out a survey looking into the public’s understanding of consumer rights. The results highlighted a gulf between consumer confidence and the actual knowledge people have about specific rights. Encouragingly, confidence was generally very high, with just under 70 per cent saying they felt ‘informed and knowledgeable’. However, when asked about their understanding of specific rights the numbers dropped considerably. Worryingly, those aged 16-24 and among the DE (less affluent) social demographic group were even less well informed.
My department, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), has joined forces with Consumer Direct, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), Trading Standards Institute (TSI) and Consumer Focus to address this gap in consumer rights knowledge.
We are partnering with a number of leading big-name retailers, including Asda, DIY retailers Wickes and B&Q and online fashion retailers Asos.com and Figleaves.com, and others are expected to come on board in due course. Through their direct daily contact with consumers they will help educate consumers about their rights and raise awareness of Consumer Direct, the national consumer rights advice body.
It is also important to us that businesses are ready to deal with the better informed consumers we hope will result from our campaign. Across the sector, from the small independent store to multinational giants, I have been encouraged by the fact that many share our point of view: a good knowledge of consumer rights, both within companies and among consumers, brings efficiencies to business.
A survey published today revealed that one in three consumers feel their consumer rights have been ignored. Of the 2000 people across England, Wales and Scotland questioned, 33% answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘Have you ever felt that a member of staff working in a shop or an online store has attempted to dismiss your claims or ignore your consumer rights when you’ve tried to return goods or get a refund?’. And, interestingly, more than a quarter of consumers said they are more likely to complain about goods they have bought during the recession. There is clearly a lot of ground to be gained.
Testimony we’ve received from companies and organisations has demonstrated that consumer rights knowledge is often beneficial because it reduces conflict and pressure on the firms’ information resources through managing consumer expectations, and creates a bigger pool of well-informed staff. It not only demonstrates a business’s commitment to customer service, but also empowers staff to confidently handle customer enquiries and problems.
Customer experience and trust is becoming even more crucial in these challenging times. People not only want to pay less, they want more for it. Consumers are looking for brands that add value and treat them in a fair and honest way. Do this and you will stand out from the crowd and emerge stronger out of the downturn.
Effective and efficient staff training is critical. But it needs to be delivered in an appropriate, timely and cost-effective way. Retailers both large and small will benefit from access to simple messages they could relay to employees. And we realise that small businesses in particular are under significant amounts of pressure when it comes to ensuring staff are adequately trained. A small independent fashion boutique with a staff of just five can’t afford to send even one member of its workforce off-site for training. We need to work together to find ways to deliver that training direct to the shop floor.
BIS, TSI and other partners have been working together to find the best and most effective ways of providing businesses with the consumer rights training they need. Following advice from businesses, all the information on consumer rights has been centralised into one place on Business Link’s website, www.bussinesslink.gov.uk/consumersrights. In support of the campaign, TSI have made two modules of their Fair Trading Awards available online and free of charge. They can be accessed via Business Link or directly from their website www.tradingstandards.gov.uk/ftaonline.
A business that demonstrates a high regard for consumer rights shows a high regard for their customers and that is ultimately what brings them back through your doors.
Businesses can access free training and information on consumer rights on Business Link’s website, www.businesslink.gov.uk/consumerrights.
The two free of charge modules of the TSI Fair Trading Awards can be accessed via Business Link or directly from the TSI website www.tradingstandards.gov.uk/ftaonline.
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