The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a significant rise in online shopping in South Africa – and subsequently more complaints.
This is according to the latest Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman (CGSO) report which shows that, prior to the lockdown in March 2020, online shopping accounted for 6% and 4% of complaints by sector for 2018/19 and 2019/20, respectively.
However, this jumped 23 percentage points in 12 months, with the e-commerce sector accounting for 27% of the complaints received in 2020/21, a trend that has continued into the current financial year.
“By far, the most common complaint (45%) was the time it took for products to reach consumers. Initially, we attributed this to companies being unprepared for the online shopping rush in the wake of the first lockdown rush, but almost 24 months on, not much seems to have changed,” said ombudsman Magauta Mphahlele.
“This quarter alone, just under 20% of all complaints received (443) were related to online shopping. Chief among these were delivery issues (63%), followed by goods not as per description or order (9%), suggesting that solving these two issues would dramatically improve customer satisfaction, and presumably, customer retention.”
Getting it right
“Looking at the number of complaints we received last year around online shopping and knowing how much effort goes into e-commerce strategies, I sometimes wonder if organisations are not missing a trick,” said Mphahlele.
“Significant amounts of executive time and resources go into creating a positive user experience, courting influencers and hiring digital strategists, only for the entire carefully curated experience to be soured by one poor delivery.”
Judging from the statistics over the past 12 months, it is clear that some retailers are not paying as much attention to the last mile – and how to handle it when it goes wrong – as they might. she said.
Mphahlele urged all companies to review their e-commerce strategies to address these issues and give customers what they want:
- A well-functioning tech platform; clear and upfront disclosures on price, cancellation penalties, delivery fees, returns and refunds;
- An accessible and responsive complaints handling mechanism;
- A commitment not to engage in bait marketing.
What the law says
Getting to grips with these issues is also a prerequisite for being compliant with the Consumer Protection Act (CPA), Mphahlele said.
Consumer-based contracts – including online shopping – are governed by the CPA in terms of which consumers are entitled to timely delivery of goods and services and to be informed of any delays.
Additionally, when the products arrive, they need to be of the same quality as advertised, meet reasonable expectations in terms of price and condition, be free of defects and be in full working order.
“The managerial implications here are to ensure that all products are described accurately and in as much detail as possible regarding size, quantity and availability and to ensure that advertised stock is available.
“If this is a limited offer, that should be clear and visible, along with the terms and conditions,” she said.
In addition to the CPA, online transactions are governed by the Electronic Communications and Transactions Act (ECTA), which provides, among other things, that if goods or services ordered are unavailable, the supplier must immediately notify the consumer and refund any payments within 30 days of notification, Mphahlele said.