Homebase, Carphone Warehouse and Sports Direct are among the worst performers according to Which? research revealing which online retailers had the best and worst customer service when dealing with customer issues during the pandemic.
During the last 17 months of disruption to all our lives, good customer service has been more important than ever as popular high street stores were forced to shut their doors for months and millions of consumers turned to online shopping.
Which? asked more than 5,000 UK consumers who had issues with their order and contacted a customer service team how the biggest online retailers in tech, lifestyle, fashion, DIY and homeware fared resolving their complaints from March 2020 to March 2021.
JD Sports, The Range, Homebase, Sports Direct, Funky Pigeon, Scan, Appliances Direct, Debenhams and Carphone Warehouse were all bottom of Which?’s rankings – receiving the same one star out of five for overall customer service.
JD Sports and Homebase – as well as Appliances Direct, Sports Direct, Funky Pigeon, Scan, Debenhams and Carphone Warehouse – received a paltry one star for the helpfulness of their customer support staff.
One JD Sports customer said they lost out when they ordered some shoes which never arrived and could not get in touch with anyone in customer service to resolve the issue. The customer said: “I tried a few times but it felt futile, so I just gave up and lost the £60.”
One in five of the Homebase customers Which? surveyed who experienced issues with their order said they are unlikely to shop with the retailer again and one in 10 said their issue was not resolved or they were not offered a solution at all.
Carphone Warehouse also performed poorly – with one in four customers who told Which? that they had an issue with it saying they were incorrectly charged or billed during the pandemic.
Shockingly, three in 10 of Carphone Warehouse customers Which? surveyed who experienced problems with their order said they felt the mobile phone retailer did not believe their issue was genuine when they complained, while one in five said they did not feel fairly treated.
Delivery fails were pain points for The Range and Sports Direct’s customers the consumer champion surveyed.
One The Range customer said: “I had to keep chasing them for my order and they had no interest in helping me.” Another customer told the consumer champion they “seemed slightly annoyed, and would only offer store credit at first.” The Range said it will be reviewing its processes following Which?’s findings.
One in five Sports Direct customers Which? surveyed who had experienced issues also said they would be unlikely to shop there again once lockdown restrictions have lifted. One Sports Direct customer described their service as “unhelpful and unaccommodating,” another complained they had been sent a completely different product to what they had ordered and only been offered a voucher in return.
At the other end of the scale, Marks and Spencer and Screwfix topped Which?’s survey with five stars across the board.
An impressive almost nine in ten (86%) of Marks and Spencer customers claimed they were happy with the solution offered to their problem. This is perhaps unsurprising considering the company has a customer service phone line open 12 hours each day Monday – Sunday.
Screwfix had the highest percentage of customers who said their issue was resolved within just 24 hours, and nine out of 10 said they were likely to continue shopping with Screwfix when restrictions are lifted.
Amazon also performed well, receiving five stars in four of the five categories and four stars for overall customer service.
Delivery dramas proved rife across the board – with three in 10 people who told Which? they experienced an issue with an online retailer during the pandemic complaining of missing or delayed deliveries, and one in five struggling to return unwanted items or faulty products.
Two-thirds of those surveyed managed to come to an agreeable solution with the online retailer in question, but a significant minority said they were not happy with the outcome. Worse still, one in 10 said their issue has not been resolved or they have not been offered a solution at all.
More than half believed some online retailers used Covid-19 as an excuse for poor customer service.
The shift to online shopping looks set to continue past the end of the coronavirus crisis. The consumer champion surveyed over 1,200 Which? members in May – with one in five saying they have continued shopping online for products they previously bought in-store.
Retailers with unhappy customers are going to have a tough time winning them back. In the consumer champion’s survey of over 5,000 members of the public, one in 10 of those surveyed said they were unlikely to return to a retailer they had experienced a problem with, while seven in 10 felt more loyal to a retailer if it had been reliable and accommodating throughout the pandemic.
Which? believes that almost 18 months on from the start of the pandemic and boom in online shopping, there is no excuse for poor customer service – online retailers must up their game to meet customers’ expectations.
Adam French, Which? Consumer Rights Expert, said:
“The pandemic saw some of the best and worst of customer service. But with online shopping now becoming the norm, we should get the same level of customer service when shopping online as when shopping in a store.
“When it comes to spending our hard-earned cash online it is essential we know which retailers we can trust to put right anything that goes wrong.
“With the extraordinary growth in online shopping set to continue as we emerge from the pandemic, retailers who are falling short must up their game to make sure no one is left frustrated and out of pocket because of bad customer service.”
Notes to editors
Which? surveyed 5,053 adults in the UK who had issues with an online retailer and contacted their customer service team between 14th and 26th May 2021. Fieldwork was carried out online by Savanta.
Which? surveyed 1,246 members of its panel between 6th May and 11th May 2021 and asked how likely they were to return to a retailer they had had an issue with.
Table of results
Rights of reply
A spokesperson for JD Sports said: “Our logistics and customer service operations were faced with a unique set of challenges during this time period. The forced closure of our stores during the national lockdowns stimulated a significant surge in online orders resulting in unprecedented levels of demand across all our online sales channels. At the same time, as a direct result of COVID-19 and the requirement to apply strict social distancing measures across our operations to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of our colleagues, we had to reduce the number of colleagues that were working in our various distribution centres and transition our colleagues in customer care to remote working.
“Ultimately, this is a historical survey that is not reflective of the current situation. We have made a number of improvements to our logistics and customer operations since this survey was conducted which have delivered considerable progress and we are pleased to see this being recognised by our customers with a significant improvement in our Trustpilot rating.”
Carphone Warehouse said: “We are truly sorry to those customers interviewed as part of the Which? survey who haven’t received the standard of customer service we expect of ourselves. The survey focuses on a period of time during the height of the pandemic when, on a number of occasions, our UK stores were temporarily closed, colleagues worked from home, and we had to adapt to new ways of working in a very challenging environment. From our own survey of 82,000 customers during the same time period, 8 out of 10 would recommend Carphone Warehouse to a family member or friend.
“During this time customers had the opportunity to contact us via Webchat, email, and our Carphone Warehouse insurance and repair telephone lines were open. As soon as lockdown lifted, and our 3in1 stores were able to re-open we extended our returns windows for an additional 14 days to ensure customers were able to bring items back and in January we introduced Order & Collect from all of our stores, which include Carphone Warehouse, making it easier and more convenient for customers to get their products.”
The Range said: “We’re very proud of our staff for supporting the nation during a challenging period. We supported millions of customers during the survey period, during unprecedented demand. We increased our customer service operation considerably, despite the challenges of a pandemic and keeping our team safe. The results from the 124 customers surveyed are disappointing; despite this comparative sample being small, we will be reviewing our processes as we strive to provide the best customer service levels possible.”
Homebase said: “We’re disappointed to hear the results of the Which? survey, and we’re really sorry to anyone we let down during the height of the pandemic. National lockdowns and the unique set of challenges it brought meant huge pressure on retailers, delivery companies and suppliers, and we weren’t always able to get orders to our customers and respond to enquiries as quickly as we usually would.
Our team members worked really hard to get deliveries back on track, going above and beyond to contact customers and deliver outstanding orders as soon as possible.”
Sports Direct had yet to respond at the time of publication.
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