8 Jun 2020

Did retailers overpromise during lockdown?

10:57 am on 8 June 2020

As the nation considers a move to alert level 1, spare a thought for those who shopped online during lockdown and still haven't received what they ordered.

Hands holding credit card and using laptop. Online shopping

Photo: 123rf

That's been the experience of hundreds of people who have vented their frustration online about large local retailers who often dispatch orders one-by-one, or not at all.

Consumer New Zealand has been fielding large numbers of complaints from irate shoppers whose online orders have yet to be delivered.

Its head of research Jessica Wilson said many retailers were still struggling to meet demand.

"Not all of them have coped with that well. We're seeing posted on Facebook pages about goods not turning up and that is becoming a cause of complaint among customers," she said.

"Retailers need to be up front about what customers can expect. If they are promising things they can't actually deliver they are going to get a lot of angry customers."

Wilson said Covid-19 disrupted distribution but consumer rights were the same whether buying online or in a store.

Disgruntled customers have used social media to criticise companies and share their experiences.

And some have struggled to get the refunds they are entitled to, and are instead being offered store credits.

Many have taken their concerns to the Commerce Commission, which received 860 complaints about online retail since lockdown began.

Its chair Anna Rawlings said the commission was taking the unique situation of sudden lockdown into account, and was aware some retailers would have been trading online for the first time.

"There was a change in the way that traders were operating and in the way consumers were buying and everybody I think was trying to do their best in difficult circumstances," she said.

"We've spoken to a number of companies to raise the concerns that we have with the practices that we've seen or complaints we've received."

The commission was still assessing most of the complaints to determine if any breached the Fair Trading Act.

Some retailers had run out of stock and that was why goods weren't being sent but there may be some reprieve ahead.

The number of full container ships arriving at Auckland's port in May is up on the same time last year, after being down 16 percent in April.

Ports of Auckland spokesperson Matt Ball said large shipments of goods are on the water heading for our shores.

"Things got a bit quieter over lockdown but it's starting to pick up now. We're hearing that some retailers may be bringing in more containers, more freight, and certainly hope that's the case," he said.

"We are ready and waiting to handle that freight should it arrive."

As for those still waiting for the courier to knock on their door, Wilson said they can use their consumer rights to get a refund.

"If your purchase doesn't arrive when promised you're entitled to cancel that and get a refund. If the store tries to offer you a credit instead of a refund you don't have to accept that, you're entitled to your money back."

Three large retailers were contacted for this story but did not respond in time.

The latest official figures showing just how much people spent in May will be released on Thursday.

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