Considerations for UK companies regarding the significant impact the ongoing restrictions will have on businesses and their consumers.

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.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.