Consumer Vulnerability: Essential Business Resource Released by Trading Standards

Business Insights

Traditional stereotypes of vulnerable consumers no longer apply, new data shows. A surge in scams – particularly targeted at younger people – since the first lockdown has revealed how consumers can be classified as vulnerable in a wide variety of situations and contexts.

According to a YouGov poll conducted on behalf of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), 9% of 18-24-year-olds lost more than £500 to scammers since the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020.

The statistics have prompted CTSI to call for businesses to do more to support customers who need extra support and assistance, and the Institute has published a new guide to help them do this.

Consumer vulnerability: A guide to identifying consumers who may be vulnerable has been launched on Business Companion, a free online resource supported by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The guidance explains how consumer vulnerability can often be a complex matter. While it can originate from more enduring personal circumstances (such as a long-term physical or mental disability), consumers can also move in and out of periods of situational vulnerability. The ability of consumers to make the right choices can be temporarily compromised by their circumstances – for example during bereavement, divorce or a period of poor physical or mental health.

There are so many different ways in which consumers of all ages and from all backgrounds can find themselves in vulnerable situations – and it’s not just caused by personal circumstances. While the COVID-19 pandemic has led to social isolation and increased anxiety (which have made consumers potentially more vulnerable), there has also been huge move towards shopping online. Lack of experience and familiarity with online technology has led to many more avenues for people to be scammed.

Understanding the issues around consumer vulnerability, and developing a policy to accommodate it, will help businesses ensure customers get a fair deal, and those most in need of protection are safeguarded.

The guidance takes businesses step-by-step through what needs to be considered to ensure vulnerable consumers are protected. From the way a business designs its products or services and the way they communicate with their customers to staff training, everything a business needs to know is covered in detail.

The resource includes a downloadable PDF which handily summarises all the key points businesses need to be aware of. There is also a very useful consumer vulnerability checklist; this will help your staff assess consumers in a consistent manner and document the information gathered. This will enable businesses to create and maintain their own consumer vulnerability policy.

With the help of the guide, businesses will be able to spot the signs of vulnerability and have the procedures and training in place to ensure such consumers are safeguarded.

The importance of protecting vulnerable consumers has become more urgent than ever in the face of changing shopping habits and the emotional upheaval caused by COVID-19.

CTSI Lead Officer for Consumer Advice and Education, Louise Baxter, who wrote the guidance, said.

“We have seen fraud on the rise during the pandemic, so we started a campaign about how we can access those particularly vulnerable consumers. People are not always aware that they’re vulnerable, so getting those messages to land is difficult.

“There needs to be more of a push for businesses to help to identify vulnerability, to ensure that people get a fair deal, whatever they’re doing. More people are likely to be vulnerable because of the lockdowns and potentially the mental health pandemic we’re going to get after that.

“There’s situational vulnerability; you could be vulnerable to falling for a scam due to bereavement, which more people are going to be struggling with, or loss of financial status. There’s also marketplace vulnerability. We’re expecting people to go ‘from bricks to clicks’ overnight, but with no training or education on how to shop safely.”

To read the guidance and watch a video on the subject, click here.