Problems with online shopping remain particularly frustrating for South African customers. The most common complaints are about items being delivered late, goods becoming defective within six months, and overall poor customer service.

The recent surge in online shopping has caused some teething problems for both retailers and consumers. E-commerce has become a big business in South Africa, valued at just under R200 billion per year, more than doubling since 2019. This has been aided by the Covid-19 pandemic, which kept more people at home and away from brick-and-mortar stores.

The Consumer Goods and Services Ombud (CGSO), which acts as an ombudsman to mediate and resolve complaints lodged by private citizens against businesses, received 11,834 complaints during the fiscal year 2021/2022.

A quarter of these complaints were about online purchases. Complaints about online shopping accounted for 27% of all CGSO grievances last year, but the Council received roughly 2,600 more complaints than it did in 2021/2022.

Complaints about online transactions accounted for only 4% of all those received by the CGSO in 2019.

Following numerous consumer complaints, the CGSO issued four online retailers with warnings for “accepting payment and then failing or refusing to deliver the goods.” These public warnings urged customers to “exercise extreme caution” when purchasing from the listed retailers.

“It is clear that the Covid-inspired online shopping trend is here to stay,” said Magauta Mphahlele, Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman, in a statement on the Council’s annual report, which was released on Wednesday.

“While scammers and fraudsters make headlines, I’d like to commend the vast majority of online suppliers and all our participants who responded positively to rectify customer service failures and uphold the sector’s integrity.”

The CGSO reported that it was able to facilitate a positive outcome for complainants in 60% of cases during the fiscal year under review. One-third of those polled were completely in favour of the consumer.

Consumers received R11.5 million in refunds, “ranging from small amounts to more substantial sums,” an increase of nearly 50% over the previous year.

The CGSO processed refunds for a consumer who “made an error with an online subscription payment and entered the incorrect amount, overpaying by R84,000” and “R98,145 for an online purchase of specialised electronic equipment that the supplier was unable to source.”

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