Business, Innovation and SkillsWritten evidence submitted by Asda Stores Ltd

As the second largest retailer in the UK, with over 560 stores, serving over 19 million customers a week, we understand that building trust and loyalty with our customers is of paramount importance. As such, we take significant steps to protect our reputation and standing amongst customers; we are a highly compliant business and we often go over and above the existing consumer law to provide great customer service.

As a responsible retailer we support moves to effectively improve standards in our sector and therefore we welcome the majority of proposals within the draft Consumer Bill of Rights which will provide further certainty and clarity to both consumers and businesses.

We support the British Retail Consortium’s written evidence submission to the Select Committee on the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Consumer Bill of Rights, which highlights the elements of the Bill which retailers support (including the proposals on both civil redress and services) as well as those that are of slight concern (including remedies for goods that are not fit for purpose).

We welcome the Government’s commitment in the draft Bill to strengthen safeguards for businesses in the area of enforcement and redress, including the requirement on enforcers to give at least two business days’ written notice to any business before entering its premises. However, without effective investment and training, inexperienced and over-stretched enforcers could be asked to enforce an element of the law which they do not fully understand. Instead of increasing the powers and responsibilities of Trading Standards officers we would recommend that enforcement powers be encompassed within the successful and effective Primary Authority Scheme.

We would also encourage the Government to implement a clear procedure for dealing with complaints to ensure that businesses and customers are aware of how the changes affecting consumer law will work in practice. It would also be helpful if businesses are given sufficient timescales within which to implement the new legislation as we will have to conduct training sessions across our entire estate.

Enforcement and Redress for Customers

The draft Bill seeks to clarify and consolidate the powers of agencies responsible for enforcing consumer protection legislation. We are particularly concerned with the proposal to increase the number of domestic bodies which can enforce consumer law legislation, including Trading Standards.

As Trading Standards officers are not extensively trained in the detailed aspects of consumer law, businesses would need to be fully assured that Trading Standards and other such bodies were committed to a significant amount of investment and training, to ensure that enforcement personnel are experts in this complex area. If not, there is potential that such organisations become over-stretched and therefore unable to fully commit to engaging and understanding the full spectrum of consumer law. If this occurred, it could be detrimental to the relationships between businesses, consumers and enforcement bodies.

In addition, responsible businesses already go the extra mile when it comes to customer service as they do not want to lose loyal customers. In fact, we are proud that very few customers have brought a case against us as we continually strive to give our customers the greatest customer service within the retail sector. For example, at Asda, our current refund and exchange policy exceeds customers’ statutory rights on the vast majority of products. If customers are not satisfied with Asda Brand food, non-edible grocery or health and beauty products, we will refund and replace the item (without proof of purchase). For electrical items, videos, games and DVDs our customers have 28 days to return the item alongside proof of purchase. Our George clothing range offers a 100-Day Quality Guarantee, allowing customers to return items within 100 days of purchase (exclusions include jewellery and footwear).

Instead of the current proposals, we recommend these powers be encompassed within the Primary Authority Scheme, with inspection bodies recognising those businesses that adopt a rigorous and robust approach to compliance. Implementing a system of earned recognition would enable resources to be better focussed on high risk areas and allow irresponsible retailers to be challenged and sanctioned appropriately. We fully support measured investigatory and enforcement powers for bodies to make informed judgements based on detailed knowledge of the law. It is unclear that Trading Standards are the most effective or well resourced body to complete this task and we would therefore urge the Government to reconsider this aspect of the Consumer Bill of Rights.

22 August 2013

Prepared 20th December 2013