Why the Retail Ombudsman is the best ADR choice for small retailers
There’s a new Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) player in town, which aims to bring assurance to sellers and buyers in the UK retail sector. Despite being just over a year old, the Retail Ombudsman, a Government-approved service provider staffed by some 100 employees, already boasts a 15,000-strong roster of retail members. Chief executive – and chief ombudsman – of the service, Dean Dunham, tells Furniture News why his ADR provider is the right choice for furniture retailers.
Launched to the UK public in January last year, the Retail Ombudsman was driven by members of the Government who recognised that with the introduction of the new Consumer Rights Act that year there would emerge far greater demand for ADR in the retail sector.
The reform, which became law last October, brought together eight pieces of legislation and promised enhanced consumer rights – including the implementation of a 30-day time period in which to return faulty goods and receive a full refund, plus replacement rights for faulty digital content.
Former business secretary Vince Cable described it as “the biggest shakeup of consumer law for a generation”. The need for an intermediary to settle disputes between retailer and customer was clear.
“The Government’s vision was to support the consumer laws, and, apart from The Furniture Ombudsman, we were the first ADR scheme retailers had ever seen,” says Dean, a barrister and solicitor advocate who boasts over 17 years’ experience in consumer law.
Following its launch, the not-for-profit organisation has therefore become the dominant ADR provider in the sector. Its substantial employee base, led by a team of lawyers and advisers, is divided into specialist complaint-handling teams dedicated to individual sectors – such as online business, clothing, and department stores.
It was the latter that first called for the Retail Ombudsman to take a more active interest in the furniture trade.
“We weren’t originally going to do furniture, in part due to the presence of the existing ombudsman, but a new division evolved due to pressure from a lot of our department store members,” says Dean, “many of which stocked furniture themselves and felt the area demanded our attention.”
“We are a nation of internet lawyers,” Dean Dunham.
Furniture has since become a “very important area” for the Retail Ombudsman. From colour complaints to maintenance issues, furniture retail is replete with grey areas when it comes to achieving a balance between good customer service and problematic purchasers.
“We are a nation of internet lawyers,” says Dean, “and people get a lot wrong! But honestly, we didn’t realise how many retailers were selling furniture – and how many complaints there are in this sector.”
A team of eight complaint handlers is now dedicated to handling the ombudsman’s furniture enquiries. More often than not, says Dean, disputes emerging from this free consumer helpline are quelled before being taken any further, and those which enter an ADR process overwhelmingly tend to find in favour of the seller.
Although difficult to enforce, part of the ADR agreement even precludes the customer from taking to social media to criticise the retailer in question.
“It’s greatly beneficial for independent retailers to be members,” says Dean. Independents – those with five stores or fewer, which make up around 90% of the Retail Ombudsman’s membership.
When the customer sees the Retail Ombudsman’s gold tick, they will know they can trust the retailer as much as the biggest names on the high street.”
Membership fees for independent retailers start from just £100 plus VAT per year. If independent retailers meet particular criteria, they can achieve accredited membership status for an additional £100 plus VAT per year, and open up opportunities for potentially more customers and revenue. These members are allowed to display a gold tick of approval, plus the ombudsman’s logo on their websites and merchandising.
“This is proving extremely popular with retailers.”
“There are thousands of small furniture retailers and many thousands more springing up online, which presents the consumer with a problem – who can I trust? Many take the easy option of opting to shop instead at the more recognisable high street shops.
“This has always been frustrating for smaller retailers, many of which have excellent customer care policies – except the customer doesn’t know it. When the customer sees the Retail Ombudsman’s gold tick, they will know they can trust the retailer as much as the biggest names on the high street.”
“At the Retail Ombudsman, we strive to work in partnership with our members, and work hard to preserve the relationship between them and their customers.”
Accredited member status reassures the consumer that the retailer has fair returns and complaints policies, that their VAT status and contact details have been verified, and their website checked.
“We have a Trading Standards officer seconded to us one day a week who redrafts our members’ published terms and conditions to make them legally compliant, fair and easy to understand,” says Dean.
Of course, the principal concern for the retailer in instances of disagreement is preserving the customer’s favour throughout the process. Emerging victorious from an ADR adjudication means little if that customer is lost for life.
“At the Retail Ombudsman, we strive to work in partnership with our members, and work hard to preserve the relationship between them and their customers,” says Dean. “Crucially, though, it’s a matter of integrity. Our job is to be independent, and make sure anything that comes out of this office is the right decision.”
News source: Furniture News
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