New research from Citizens Advice North Herts finds one in five shoppers in the East of England have experienced a problem with an item they’ve bought since October 2023.  

The charity’s study found that, nationally, 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. 

Top tips 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.  

Citizens Advice North Herts is marking the start of its Consumer Awareness campaign, which runs from January 29 to February 4.

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. 

For advice call the Citizens Advice Consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133.