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Christmas shopping in a lockdown – how to avoid the unethical online giants

Can we shop ethically this Christmas?

Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get worse, we have entered another lockdown. This time in the cold and wet and in the run-up to Christmas. At a time when retailers would usually be welcoming a flood of customers looking for that perfect gift, the doors are shut and consumers are left wondering where to go for their seasonal shopping.

As Black Friday looms, online giants like Amazon will be luring us with cheap prices and fast delivery, hoping to grab a significant share of our Christmas budgets.

But where does this leave the independent shops, many of which rely on Christmas shopping to keep their businesses going?

Ethical Consumer logoThank you to Emma Oddie from Ethical Consumer magazine who explains how we can put our money where our values are this year, spending less, but helping smaller, local businesses along the way.

Putting ethics at the top of the Christmas list

Christmas is an individual experience, it means different things to different people, but for many, it involves a time of shopping. We buy presents for our nearest and dearest to show them how much we care and it seems that we spare very little when it comes to celebrating Christmas. YouGov reported last year that the average Brit spends £1116 on Christmas festivities with £381 going on presents alone.

The financial strain of COVID-19 means than many have tighter Christmas budgets this year. So, how do we make sure that we spend what we have wisely? Could this be the Christmas when ethics make it to the top of the Christmas list? Follow our five simple tips for an ethical Christmas and make your budget count.

Christmas tip #1: Don’t buy things (get creative) 

OK, this seems like a weird tip to put in a Christmas shopping blog but it’s an important one. We all know that excessive consumerism is driving big problems: waste, pollution, climate change, deforestation and exploitation, to name just a few.

Gifts are only one way that we can show our loved ones that we care. To reduce your impact, why not try an alternative this Christmas?

Gift a post-lockdown experience

Planning an experience is a personal way to show someone that you care:

  • Buy tickets for a show or a concert and support the arts, an industry which has felt the pinch of the lockdown more than most.
  • Plan a trip – buy tickets or vouchers and have fun planning an adventure, make your own itinerary and share it with your loved one.
  • Buy membership to a nature reserve or trust, such as the Woodland Trust, for a year of trips and give much needed financial support to worthwhile causes.

Gift your time

If you have green fingers or are handy with a hammer, gift your time to help get some home improvement projects started. Pledge to clear out an attic, help someone move home or support someone starting up their new business.

Get crafty

If you’re a dab hand with a sewing machine or can whip up a crocheted blanket in a matter of days, why not make your own gifts this season? While we’re in lockdown, with more time on our hands, crafts can help to lift our mood and give our days purpose.

Give to charity

So many charities are offering alternative gifts this Christmas. Use your loved one’s passion to help someone else. For green-fingered friends, buy an Oxfam Unwrapped farm kit, give the gift of clean water with Unicef or pledge to feed a child for a year with Mary’s Meals.

Gillian McMahon, Director of Supporter Engagement and Income at Mary’s Meals, explains the importance of charitable giving at Christmas:

“Over Christmas, many people will be taking time to remember their precious loved ones. Others may be looking for alternative gift ideas beyond the usual festive fayre. The Mary’s Meals virtual dinner table offers an ideal way of doing both and celebrating the season of goodwill and generosity.

By setting a place at our virtual table, you can help feed a child at a place of education in some of the world’s poorest communities for an entire school year.

“Public donations made by 31 January 2021 will be doubled by the UK government, up to £2 million, meaning we can reach even more hungry children in Liberia with life-changing school meals. This is all the more reason to give and help make a positive difference this Christmas.”  

Make Christmas delicious

Why not make your own jams or chutneys this Christmas with leftover fruit and seasonal produce. Add some homemade biscuits and a Christmas pudding and repurpose a wicker basket and tissue paper to make your own hamper. It’s the perfect Christmas treat without the plastic packaging.

Christmas tip #2: Buy second hand

Want to see the look on someone’s face when they unwrap your gift? Then before you buy, think about second hand or nearly new options. Repurpose unwanted gifts from last year, gift your most-loved books to share your favourite tales and look for beautiful vintage pieces or upcycled gifts.

World of Books offers a wide selection of second hand and even rare books, as well as a range of used DVDs and Blu-ray. Oxfam’s online shop is full of original, pre-owned items from accessories to bridalwear and, of course, vintage books. Beyond Retro offer a huge selection of vintage clothes for a truly unique twist on fashion.

“At Beyond Retro we are all about out with the new, in with the old. Shopping second-hand and vintage for Christmas is such a special way to gift your loved ones for the festive season,” explains Kate Peters, Managing Director, Beyond Retro. “Every piece you buy is handpicked and one-of-a-kind, adding a unique touch, plus it has an ethical feel-good factor for the giver and the receiver. 

“Shopping sustainably means giving presents from our past to save our future, every cable knit, silk blouse and band tee can have a place in a loved-ones wardrobe instead of landfill, creating a positive impact on the environment whilst celebrating the individual style of the person you’re buying for. Also, it’s a great opportunity to show people who don’t normally shop second-hand the quality and variety available; it might help convert some fast fashion lovers to shop vintage more often.” 

Check out the Ethical Consumer guide to ethical fashion for more upcycled fashion ideas and inspiration. Many shops have an online presence, making shopping simple through the lockdown.

See also Fast and Cheap Fashion – Who pays the Price? Simon Birch from Ethical Consumer explains more about fast fashion which has been at the heart of a number of controversies over the past couple of years.

Christmas tip #3: avoid Amazon

Online giants like Amazon are the death of independents. By driving low prices – largely through avoiding tax, and taking a big cut from marketplace sellers – Amazon continues to increase its market share. For years Amazon has been associated with pretty much every kind of unethical business practice, from unfair working conditions in supply chains to tax avoidance schemes. By spending your money on Amazon, you are endorsing and supporting this activity.

Ethical Consumer is currently leading an Amazon boycott, calling out its outrageous tax avoidance. Amazon will push big deals your way on Black Friday, they will undercut booksellers and appear at the top of your gift searches but avoid the temptation if you can.

Vote with your feet does boycotting work? article about boycotting discussing how it can work.

Complaining Cow Books(Note from The Complaining Cow – Yup! Undercutting small businesses too including self publishers who can’t sell their books at the right price. See How to Complain: The essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results! and 101 Habits of an Effective Complainer)

 

Christmas tip #4: find your independents

If you need to buy brand new gifts, look for an ethical retailer and shop local wherever you can. The shops might be shut but many are running a click and collect service and branching into selling online. Help them wherever you can.

We talked to Kate Mullin, owner of Pickles & Lillies, a small ethical children’s shop, specialising in organic clothes and sustainable toys, based in Lavenham, Suffolk. Kate discusses how consumers can help support their local independents.

Christmas scene behind window children's clothes“Hearing the news of the second lockdown was devastating. Although the regular Christmas fairs were cancelled, we felt optimistic that shoppers would make the effort to come to shop with independents like us and we were starting to see increased numbers into the shop. To get us through lockdown, we’ve set up a click and collect service and we’re shifting sales online but this is hard without huge marketing budgets. Small businesses simply can’t compete against bigger brands online. 

“My advice to shoppers is to support independents now more than ever. Like many other small businesses, we provide a personal service, we take time to source unique items and we help customers choose the perfect gift. At Pickles & Lillies, we work multi coloured dress in a shop on a mannequin hard on understanding our supply chain and sourcing ethical brands and you won’t find any plastic in our shop. If you care about where your gifts come from, independent stores are often a great choice.

We’ve been overwhelmed by the messages of support that we have received and it gives me faith that our high streets may be changing for the better when this pandemic is over.” 

Christmas tip #5: give Christmas more meaning

COVID-19 has made 2020 a difficult year for so many. We have missed time with family, struggled with disconnection and had our communities disrupted and damaged. Many of us made resolutions in the first lockdown to commit to better, truer and more ethical lives. Christmas 2020 is the perfect time to show that commitment, to focus on how we can be better connected and reduce our reliance on using things to make us feel happy.

Give yourself a gift this Christmas and pledge to shift towards more ethical living. It might be giving Veganuary a try, ditching Amazon, switching to Fairtrade brands or leaving the car at home and walking to the shops or work.

We can’t tackle climate change or clean the oceans by ourselves, but every small deed adds up. What action will you take this Christmas?

More ideas How to support local business during lockdown without leaving the home instead of relying on online giants…

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About the author

head and shouldersEmma Oddie is a Features Writer for Ethical Consumer magazine.

Ethical Consumer is an independent co-operative founded in 1989, providing the tools and resources consumers need to make ethical shopping choices simple, informed and effective.

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ADR Ombudsman Latest News Press releases Property

How to build confidence in your home improvement project

Press release

Home improvement – DIY or get some help?

Home improvement has seen a huge rise throughout the pandemic. The increased amount of time people are spending at home, improving mental health and wanting their home to look nice for Christmas are all contributing factors to the 12.8 million people planning to do improvement work at home in the next few weeks.

In the run up to Christmas, 46% of Brits plan to undertake home improvements and 54% of them are planning to do the work themselves, with a whopping 61% admitting that they are not competent to do the job! That’s according to figures released today (16/11/20) from research undertaken by the financial services comparison company, GoCompare.

At the start of the second lockdown, Housing Minister, Robert Jenrick, confirmed that tradespeople would still be able enter customers’ homes to carry out work.  However, in yet another example of confusion around the COVID-19 restrictions, the research reveals that 13% of those wanting to work on their homes believed that they couldn’t have tradespeople in their home and 23% didn’t want them in their home at all.

With so many risks associated with undertaking works in the home, what else do you need to consider when using a tradesperson?

wooden joints

10 Top Tips for taking on tradespeople

1)  Get at least 3 firm quotes, not just rough estimates. Ignore any that are very different to other quotes.

2)  Ask friends and family for recommendations of companies who have already done work for them. If you don’t know anyone who can make a recommendation, ask traders for details of customers willing to show you their work. TrustMark can provide a list of recommended traders in your area, each of whom in turn is registered with a professional trade association. TrustMark say they are the Government Endorsed Quality Scheme and if something goes wrong with a trader – and their process doesn’t put it right – you will be able to use the Dispute Resolution Ombudsman for free. Check out reviews. Be careful and cynical of reviews on Facebook, particularly on the builder’s own page. Scams abound on many sites. So, check carefully before making a decision!

3)   All professional builders should willingly agree to a written contract which includes an agreed staged payment plan. In addition to the contract, continuous communication throughout the project is the best way to avoid problems arising. Many traders are signed up to reputable trade associations which help them to get their paperwork in order, but remember, what comes naturally to a lawyer doesn’t necessarily to a trader.

4)   Beware of websites that just offer to help you to find tradespeople. Often traders pay to be listed on these websites which generate leads for them, sometimes without the trader being vetted or required to abide by an Ombudsman or Alternative Dispute Resolution Service. If the website only helps you to spend your cash but doesn’t help you put things right if they go wrong, avoid it and look for one that will help you at both ends of the project.

5)   In addition to providing lots of advice and information on services, Which? operates the Which? Trusted Traders scheme. Unlike a lead generation site, this carries out checks and requires traders to abide by a comprehensive code of conduct, all of which is underpinned by the Dispute Resolution Ombudsman which can independently investigate complaints if things do go wrong.

6)   Be wary of any builder who can start straight away! Any builder worth their salt will be busy!

7)   Check to see if the builder has public liability or employer’s insurance which will give you peace of mind. Consider a building warranty that either they or you can take out to give you further peace of mind.

8)   Take photos before, during and after the work.

9)   For some larger projects, both parties can agree that an independent expert will value the work and payments can then be made at various stages during the project.

10) If you’re using a home improvement retailer to fit a bedroom, bathroom or kitchen, check that they are a member of the Furniture and Home Improvement Ombudsman before you buy. If they are registered, you’ll benefit from free and independent dispute resolution if things go wrong.

Top tips – what to do if things go wrong with tradespeople

Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow, a consumer champion, has these tips:

1)  Try to resolve the matter in person or over the ‘phone before formally writing if you have a complaint.

2)  Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015 you are entitled to goods of satisfactory quality, that last a reasonable length of time and services (such as fitting) to be carried out with reasonable skill and care.

3)  Give the trader an opportunity to remedy the work. If they refuse to do this or they fail to do it satisfactorily, then you can take the matter further. Ensure that you state that you retain your legal rights under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, so that you are still able to claim if necessary afterwards when you write to complain.

4)  If the trader does not respond or does not remedy the faulty work, proceed with getting an independent report and 3 quotes.   Get the work done and write to the trader requesting this amount, attaching the paperwork. You could attach a quote before the work is done to give the trader one last chance, if you wish.

5)  The Defective Premises Act 1972 relates to work undertaken by builders, developers, surveyors and architects. “Defective”, in legal terms, means work causing the property to be unfit for habitation as a result of design, workmanship or materials. Improvement, small jobs and refurbishments are not covered by this Act, so use the Consumer Rights Act 2015 instead.

6)  If the trader is a member of a trade association, you can contact it and see if you are able to use their dispute resolution scheme.

Kevin Grix, Chief Executive and Chief Ombudsman at the Dispute Resolution Ombudsman, says:

“Sometimes even the most straightforward home improvement projects go wrong – and when they do the consequences for everyone involved can be dire. The temporary loss of amenities such as plumbing and electricity caused by a problem are often just the tip of the iceberg. Often when jobs go badly, traders and their customers find themselves in a stand-off, with work left incomplete and arguments over payments escalating.”

There are few more emotive disputes than those that involve the home. Dewdney says that good builders and tradespeople are not just adept with their tools – they also have processes in place to look after their customers. “For extra peace of mind, select those who demonstrate a commitment to standards and putting things right if they go wrong. Look for the ones who are registered with an endorsement website and with an Ombudsman.”

What to include in a contract with the builder etc

A contract should include the following:

  • Total price inclusive/exclusive of VAT
  • Timescales
  • Start and end dates to include delays and disruptions
  • Payment stages
  • Specifications of materials to be used
  • Insurance and responsibilities for loss/damage
  • Liabilities
  • How unexpected work will be dealt with
  • Health and Safety
  • Termination/cancellation rights
  • Sub-contracting
  • Dispute resolution

For more information see How to ensure a stress-free building project which includes a case study and court action which set a precedent you need to know if you are considering legal action!

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For more help, advice, tips, information and templates buy  How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

 

 

 

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There are some problems in the ADR/Ombudsman sector

There are many issues regarding ADR and Ombudsmen providers. These are mainly to do with the oversight by their approval bodies and are highlighted in my articles Government and regulators continue to fail on resolving consumer disputes and Landing in Court with Ryanair. These articles include links to the reports Ombudsman Omnishambles and More Ombudsman Omnishambles.

This is why we recommend an Ombudsman. (See More Ombudsman Omnishambles for details on how Ombudsman standards are higher than other ADR providers).

Alternative Dispute Resolution – approval and oversight in the loosest sense of the words…