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Fridges, phones, holidays: The faulty goods and services that cause Irish people most stress

A wide-ranging survey highlights the sectors and issues that cost Irish people almost €1bn last year

Not a day goes by without Pricewatch hearing from people with stories of woe to share but even this page was somewhat taken aback when the cost of malfunctioning stuff and bad customer care was laid bare by the consumer watchdog last week.

In the report Understanding Consumer Detriment in Ireland, the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission asked 4,500 consumers about the things that caused them stress, or cost them money or time, in 2023, with the final bill coming in at €968 million.

The survey had to be careful with its questions as the research was carried out in the middle of the cost-of-living crisis “and this may have influenced consumers’ perception and expectation of businesses”, the report states. As a result, the questionnaire was deliberately worded to “minimise the opportunity to record detriment that related specifically to inflation”.

Despite that “some consumers still entered issues related to this. While all consumers are likely to have experienced inflation in some form or other, it was clear from the responses of the consumers reporting these issues that it had caused them financial hardship and, at a minimum, stress,” the commission notes.


It also points to “global disruption in supply chains as a result of the war in Ukraine, along with long-term trade implications relating to Brexit and said they “have influenced market outcomes for consumers”, with problems including delivery delays and unexpected customs or taxes.

“The inclusion of these issues in survey responses is not surprising as the [commission] has witnessed an increase in the number of contacts to our helpline from consumers relating to price increases in the last two years,” the report says.

But aside from these hopefully transitory issues, the report highlights some more enduring issues.

It looks at typical purchases made spanning 19 categories – from telecoms and domestic appliances to holidays and gambling – and found that 1.6 million adults, or 39 per cent of the adult population in Ireland, experienced some kind of difficulty last year.

What it calls home products and tools – fridges, toasters, hair straighteners and all the rest – were most likely to cause problems, with 13 per cent of people highlighting issues with household goods.

Telecoms was next, with about one in eight consumers identifying these services as problematic. Holiday and travel companies aggravated 11 per cent of respondents while vehicles caused one in 10 consumers grievance. Banks, medical services and digital subscriptions also scored high (or should that be low?) on the commission’s survey, with issues with each of these sectors highlighted by 9 per cent of respondents.

The commission put the average cost of the issues at €60 per consumer, which is how it arrived at its €968 million assessment. The expenses cover what people paid initially and what they spent on repairs and legal fees.

While €1 billion, give or take, is a lot, it works out at just six cent in every €10 of the €162 billion that Irish consumers spend each year, which might explain why companies are happy to let the bad service continue, as it is not costing them that much in relative terms.

It costs consumers dearly, however. Along with the money, there is the time wasted and stress endured.

A hefty 90 per cent of those polled say they have spent some of their free time trying to resolve these problems, with two-thirds saying they have spent time at work trying to get problems remedied.

Is it any wonder that all the difficulties cause stress levels to climb? Fifteen per cent of people say they have been left “extremely stressed” as a result of problems caused by faulty goods and bad customer service. The percentage doubles among those who have experienced difficulties with childcare or education.

A further 25 per cent or so say they have found dealing with bookies, car sellers, travel and airline companies and energy companies extremely stressful, while two-thirds say trying to resolve issues or get redress has left them stressed either moderately or quite a lot.

According to the study, men are more likely to report issues; 41 per cent say they have faced problems compared with 36 per cent of women.

Younger consumers are almost twice as likely to report having experienced problems compared with older consumers, while people in Dublin are more likely to report having had problems compared with people in all other regions.

Forty-four per cent of people in the capital have reported issues compared with the mid-thirties elsewhere. The research also finds that those with higher educational qualifications are 6 per cent more likely to report having experienced problems compared with people with lower educational qualifications.

Some 39 per cent of consumers who report problems say it is with the product or service received, meaning it has not met their expectations. For 22 per cent, the trouble is with delivery of the product. Of those who report problems with the good or service received, 47 per cent have bought online and 33 per cent in person.

Just over 70 per cent of those who have had issues contacted the seller, and are significantly more likely to contact sellers in Ireland than elsewhere. Divided into sectors, the highest number of consumers contacting sellers is in telecoms, at 83 per cent, with the lowest being gambling (44 per cent).

In total, 39 per cent of consumers who have had problems say the issue was with the good or service received – meaning that it did not perform as they hoped it would.

Next, on 22 per cent, are issues with the delivery of the product. Of those who select this category, 47 per cent purchased the product/service online, compared with 33 per cent in person. Problems relating to price or tariffs are next. That stands out as a key issue in education and childcare, with those reporting detriment in the utilities category also having issues with payment/invoicing.

When the trader location is considered, some differences in problems across geographical location are evident. For example, scams tend to be under-represented in Ireland compared with other issues, with the EU making up a higher proportion of this category compared with other problems.

Almost two-thirds of most serious issues are experienced through providers that consumers were already familiar with, 49 per cent having used the seller before and 13 per cent saying they knew the company previously.

Problems relating to the most serious issue lasted one to four weeks before they were resolved, although 10 per cent said they were still dealing with their most serious issue more than six months after they first contacted the seller

A further 12 per cent of consumers reporting detriment say their most serious issue has arisen from a product or service recommended to them by a family or friend. “While friends and family can be important real-world sources if they have experience of the product or service, this finding is a reminder that consumers should always carry out further research for themselves before making a purchase,” says the report.

Nearly 40 per cent of consumers say they paid less than €100 for their purchase, while a further 18 per cent paid €100-€249. Just over 20 per cent of consumers on average say they paid more than €1,000 for the product that has given them their most serious issue. The median value of all initial costs associated with purchases where consumer detriment is reported is €120.

Notable variations in the initial costs are observed across market sectors.

A total of 85 per cent of consumers who report entertainment products as their most serious issue in the past 12 months have paid less than €100 for their purchase while almost 80 per cent of consumers who report an issue with a vehicle purchase in the past 12 months have paid an initial price of more than €1,000.

More than 40 per cent of respondents say they could not use the product at all, with a further 21 per cent only being able to use the product with significant difficulty. Only one in five of respondents report being able to fully use the product, with fewer than 13 per cent able to use the purchase with minor difficulty. These findings imply that the use value retained by products after purchase either has either reduced to zero or has significantly diminished in most cases where detriment is reported.

The research also finds that in cases where consumers contact the seller, just over 10 per cent of people report having the issue resolved within a day, while a third report getting satisfaction within a week leaving two-thirds – or more than a million people – left waiting longer than a week to have a problem resolved.

Problems relating to the most serious issue lasted between one and four weeks before they were resolved, although 10 per cent say they were still dealing with their most serious issue more than six months after they first contacted the seller.

Outlining the reason for the research, the watchdog says, “Examining the problems consumers face helps us decide where to focus as an organisation. It also helps us identify gaps in the law, areas for further research and where we should call for change. Doing this work can improve outcomes for consumers by putting stronger protections in place and building more trust in markets.”

“These results support many of the [commission’s] activities in terms of enforcement of consumer protection legislation where we have secured successful prosecutions in vehicle sales and maintenance,” the report adds. “In addition, our product safety division has ordered and processed a high volume of recalls: 19 in the area of toys and baby accessories, and home products and tools. This included the unusual step of banning a whole product line in the case of baby-self-feeding pillows in December 2022.”

It is not the first such study carried out by the watchdog. In 2014 it conducted a similar piece of research, which found that 44 per cent of consumers experienced some form of detriment in the previous 12 months, suggesting things might be improving, albeit slowly.