Disillusionment peaks for Scottish shoppers

by Ombudsman Services | May 31, 2018

  • Eight million issues ignored by Scottish consumers in 2017
  • 70 per cent of Scottish consumers are now resigned to poor service in one or more sector
  • Poor customer service sees trust nosedive, with three in 10 (30%) consumers trusting businesses less now than three years ago
  • The findings published today coincide with an event in Holyrood where MSPs will discuss how the consumer rights landscape in Scotland can be improved

Scottish consumers experienced 12.7 million issues with products and services in 2017 – affecting 58 per cent of the population.

Yet only a third (33%) of these complaints were reported to companies, leaving 8.1 million complaints unaddressed, according to Ombudsman Services’ fourth annual Consumer Action Monitor Scotland – the largest multi-sector survey of its kind.

Active complaints are down 13 per cent from the previous year, with seven in 10 (70 per cent) Scottish consumers now resigned to poor service in at least one sector. A quarter (26%) of people believe you can only get a result from a complaint if you kick up a big fuss, while a further 24 per cent have previously raised an issue but nothing changed.

Disillusionment is felt most keenly by people in Mid Scotland and Fife, who brush 71 per cent of the issues they experience under the rug. Glaswegians experience the most issues per person at 2.86 per head, but less than a third of these are raised with the company.  

Rather than make a formal complaint, 41 per cent of Scottish adults ‘walked out’ before completing a purchase in 2017 and others decided to leave a company (27%) or spend less money with them (23%). Without clear ways to complain, many consumers may feel that ‘protesting’ by withdrawing custom is the only way to hold firms to account. However, this type of consumer action is bad news for businesses as they are not given the opportunity to resolve the issue.

Retailers are most likely to be affected by this behaviour. More than one in three (37%) shoppers said they’ve stopped buying from a specific brand in the past 12 months. Meanwhile, sectors like Telecoms (11%) and Energy (11%), where consumers are better protected and have a clear complaining route are significantly less likely to see customers switch brands as a result of poor service.

Consumer cynicism and lack of awareness of their rights indicates the need for change. The findings have been published today (31 May) to coincide with an event in Holyrood, where MSPs will discuss how the consumer rights landscape in Scotland can be improved and consumers can be encouraged to report rather than ignore issues.

Lack of trust may be preventing consumers reporting issues. Three in 10 (30%) Scottish consumers trust businesses less than three years ago while most (87%) Scottish consumers say their trust in companies is dented if their family and friends have bad experiences. And with a third (33%) consumers now moaning to their friends and family after they have encountered an issue rather than speaking to the company, disillusionment and ‘passive activism’ are making it harder than ever for businesses to track customer service and improve practises.

Lewis Shand Smith, Chief Ombudsman at Ombudsman Services, said: “Scottish consumers are understandably disappointed with poor service and when expectations are not met, this can lead to frustration and anger. Voting with your feet is one way you can show dissatisfaction, but complaining is the only real way to get issues resolved, so we’d encourage anyone with a complaint to come forward and make their voice heard instead of ending up angry and uncompensated.

“With consumers feeling disillusioned and finding new ways to show it, businesses need to shift their thinking when it comes to customer service. The most successful companies are those that use technology to complement their customer service, and take a 360-degree view of the complaints process – so that trends can be identified and problems are addressed at the root.

“If consumers complain more and companies commit to improving customer service issues, the result will be consumer protection that is good for consumers and good for business.”

Ombudsman Services is the largest multi-sector provider of redress in the UK, providing an independent and impartial way resolving ongoing complaints. It can investigate disputes between customers and suppliers that have been on-going for eight weeks or more, or those that have reached a deadlock stage.




Table 1: Complaints made by sector (totals 4.6 million)




Number of complaints

Percentage of complaints










Public Transport








Public Sector








Banking and Financial Services




Health Services








Motor Vehicle Repairs




Research methodology:

Ombudsman Services commissioned ICM Research (now Walnut Unlimited) to carry out a nationally representative survey of adults aged 18+. A total of 536 people were questioned throughout Scotland, with representative quotas for gender age, region, social grade, work status and tenure. The research was conducted between 20 and 28 December 2017.