Brits spend £2 billion and six million hours fixing consumer gripes since October alone

New research from Citizens Advice finds almost a quarter of Brits (25%, equivalent to 12.4 million people) have experienced a problem with an item they’ve bought since October 2023. 

The charity’s study found consumers spent over £2 billion and six million hours - an average of £64 and 94 minutes per person - trying to fix these issues. This was made up by, for example, people needing to take time off work to return a parcel within set hours, or racking up phone bills hanging on the end of a customer helpline.

Citizens Advice found shoppers were seven times more likely to have an issue with online purchases compared to those made in store (24% vs 3%).

Further analysis revealed: 

  • Delivery issues were the most common (57%) problems for consumers with products arriving late (28%) or not arriving at all (27%). This was closely followed by consumers receiving defective goods (52%)

  • Those aged between 18-24 (34%) and those with children younger than 11 (33%) were most likely to be left out of pocket, (compared to the average of 25%)

These findings are mirrored in the demand for Citizens Advice services as consumers turn to the charity for guidance on how to claw back losses from a range of retail woes. Some of the cases the charity helped with recently include:

  • A man who was left £100 out of pocket when only half of his clothes order was delivered, despite having spent three hours on the phone to their customer helpline to try and fix the problem

  • A family whose concerns that the bunkbeds they ordered seemed unsturdy were ignored. Shortly after, they collapsed. Despite calling up the retailer no steps have been made to fix this

To help shoppers start 2024 clued up on their rights, Citizens Advice is sharing its top tips to shop confidently. This advice marks the start of its Consumer Awareness campaign (Monday 29th January - Sunday 4th February). The annual campaign is run by Citizens Advice in collaboration with the Consumer Protection Partnership (CPP), which includes Trading Standards and the Department for Business and Trade.

Jane Parsons, Consumer Expert at Citizens Advice offers advice to help consumers shop safely this year:

  1. Delivery problems

  • It’s the seller’s responsibility to make sure the item is delivered to you. Check the delivery address you gave the seller and contact them to ask where your order is. 

  • If the seller claims they've delivered it or don't know where it is, you can ask for a redelivery. You might be able to get a refund in some circumstances.

2. Defective goods

If something’s gone wrong with an item you’ve bought, you might be entitled to a refund, repair or replacement. You’ll have legal rights if the item you bought is:

  • broken or damaged ('not of satisfactory quality')

  • unusable (‘not fit for purpose’)

  • not what was advertised or doesn’t match the seller’s description"

3. What if I change my mind?

  • If you buy in store, you don’t have a legal right to return goods if you’ve simply changed your mind. Lots of shops have their own policies and do allow this, but time limits can vary.

  • If you buy online you usually get a right to cancel, known as a cooling off period, but there are exemptions including bespoke or personalised goods, and computer software where the seal is broken.

4. Pay safe

  • Pay by card so you have another form of protection if there’s a problem. The other way would be by making a chargeback or section 75 claim to your card provider. 

  • Be cautious if you’re asked to pay in an unusual way such as in iTunes vouchers, crypto currency or via bank transfer as this could be the sign of a scam. 

5. Making a return

  • Get proof of your return - a receipt from a shop or proof of postage. If you pay for return postage check the service you use covers the value of the goods.

  • Using a service that includes tracking means you can prove when a trader received your return. 

Dame Clare Moriarty, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“As we go into the new year, it’s vital consumers are empowered with the right knowledge to shop safely. With budgets already stretched it’s important shoppers don't waste precious time and money on retail issues that could easily be avoided.”

“Citizens Advice is dedicated to giving consumers the knowledge they need to stay savvy when shopping on the highstreet or online. Everyone can be a consumer champion when armed with the right information.”

Mike Andrews, National Co-ordinator, National Trading Standards eCrime Team, said: 

“You’re more likely to experience issues when buying online than in store, which is why you should always double-check the seller before making the purchase. Be extra cautious when purchasing an item on social media – the links will often take you to scam websites, which can leave you out of pocket and lead to even bigger issues like identity theft.”

John Herriman, Chief Executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), said:

“It is vital that consumers are just as protected when shopping online as they are when purchasing items on the highstreet, and that they have clear, transparent information about how to get help if a problem arises.

“These consumer awareness campaigns play a crucial role in educating consumers, so they are armed with the knowledge they need to shop safely online and where to go to seek help if they need it.

“Online marketplaces have a key role to ensure that goods on their platforms will not put consumers in harm. CTSI is supporting the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Consumer Protection to conduct a national inquiry into online marketplaces and the supply chain to give key policy recommendations to improve the landscape for UK consumers.”

Notes to editors

  1. Walnut Omnibus, a nationally representative omnibus survey of 2,041 adults across GB between 3rd – 5th January 2024. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

  2. Population methodology calculated by multiplying total-level statistics by the ONS mid-2021 estimate of 51,718,632 adults in Great Britain

  3. Time and money calculated by multiplying the average amount of time by the calculated figure for how many British adults have experienced this impact

  4. Citizens Advice is made up of the national charity Citizens Advice; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.

  5. Our network of charities offers impartial advice online, over the phone, and in person, for free.

  6. Citizens Advice helped 2.66 million people face to face, over the phone, by email and webchat in 2022-23. And we had 60.6 million visits to our website. For full service statistics see our monthly publication Advice trends.

  7. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 16,000 trained volunteers, You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 223 1133 or 0808 223 1144 for Welsh language speakers.

  8. *Case studies have be anonymised to protect their identity