Know your rights and responsibilities

Retailers can invest thousands in brand advertising only to have it destroyed in seconds when consumers have a bad experience in store or customer service isn’t up to scratch.

A new online resource from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) hopes to help retailers deal with tensions around consumers returning products.

The legalities of what can and can’t be returned and when is hardly the sexiest thing about retail, but it’s one of the realities of shopping that consumers face regularly and it is one aspect of customer services that opens the door to negative experience.

After all, the staff on the shop floor are brand ambassadors and are often customers’ first and only point of contact with the brand.

It’s no good appointing an advertising agency, developing a brand strategy and creative campaign and shouting to the world about your brand positioning, because no amount of clever marketing can fix a relationship broken by poor in store service.

Retailers and customers know that there are laws relating to buying and returning goods, but sometimes the distinctions are blurred and the confusion at the checkout can sometimes be the nail in the coffin for a consumer’s relationship with a retail brand.

The OFT hopes that the Sales of Goods Act (SOGA) online hub will provide retail staff with the knowledge they need to comply with the law and improve customer service in stores by equipping them with the tools to diffuse any potentially damaging situations that arise with customers unhappy with their purchases.

One particular retail sub-sector which has previously been blighted by lasting perception of poor customer service is consumer electrics. In the past customers, myself included, dreaded the purchase of a new TV or computer.

The sector, and the big players within it such as Currys and Comet have had to work hard to change that in the past few years.

Dixons has transformed its PC World and Curry’s stores and Comet has just launched a repositioning campaign to play on the emotional aspects of consumer electronics and make the in-store experience match up to the excitement of the products.

Comet’s rationale is that that excitement of the new product should continue throughout the selection and buying process in stores rather than be a traumatic step along the way.

This oft overlooked aspect of what really builds relationships with brands isn’t sexy but it is essential.