There is no doubt that ongoing restrictions will have a significant impact on businesses and their consumers for the foreseeable future. These restrictions will affect the ability to deliver service and/or remedies to customers and so companies should consider how to mitigate those risks and how to communicate with their customers about the likely impact.

Although we are in unprecedented times, where it is difficult to plan for change, some areas to consider will be:

  • Production delays not just for new products, but replacements and spare parts;
  • Delivery and/or repair delays in a time of self-isolation / social distancing; and
  • The effect of staff shortages on customer service and other key areas of the business such as product safety, engineering and so on.

One important consideration is the potential impact on consumer rights. Customers in the UK are entitled to certain remedies where a product was not of “satisfactory quality” or “fit for purpose” at the date of purchase:

  • Full refund within 30 days of delivery;
  • Repair or replacement or full refund if the repair or replacement do not resolve the issue / are not available within a reasonable time within 6 months of delivery; and
  • Repair or replacement within a reasonable time, otherwise partial refund (with reduction to reflect the use of the product), 6 months after delivery onwards (5 years in Scotland).

With consumers likely to be relying on online purchases more than ever, they will have additional rights (such as the 14 day right to withdraw and 14 day right to a refund after returning goods to a trader) under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013.

Businesses should consider how they will provide ongoing customer support to consumers in the current conditions, including considering how delays may impact their consumers options under consumer rights law. In particular, providing a replacement or repair may not be possible due to unavailability of delivery drivers, engineers, or indeed because it is not possible to enter a consumer’s home if they are presenting symptoms. While consumer rights will continue to apply, there may be scope for greater flexibility over what is considered a “reasonable time”. In any case, communication will be key, and it will be  important that companies keep their customers informed of any delays as well as communicating any practical steps that are being taken to ensure the safety of their staff and their customers.

Inevitably a range of different solutions will be deployed by businesses as they grapple with the challenges posed by Covid-19. Ingenuity and problem-solving will be crucial to the ability of business to ensure that they can continue to service customers in these difficult times.

Follow Productwise for regular updates on best practice and key learnings arising through the COVID-19 crisis.

Posted by Jamie Humphreys

Jamie Humphreys is a litigation and regulatory lawyer. He is a strategic advisor to clients who face critical threats to their business at all stages of the product life-cycle, working with them to ensure the most favourable outcome and manage any reputational impact. He also provides policy advice to clients on proposed legislation and regulations that may introduce profound changes to their business. He has acted on high profile litigation across a range of different industries, internal investigations into allegations of fraud by global products manufacturers, major corruption investigations for Governments, and B2B product liability disputes, international recalls and consumer claims for well-known global brands. He is passionate about the impact that new technologies such as 3D printing, AI and Internet of Things will have in the products space and works with clients to ensure they prosper within a dynamic regulatory environment.