UK ecommerce sites failing shoppers

15 October 2012

LONDON: More than half of the UK's top online retailers are in danger of contravening certain legal requirements relating to their customers, a report has revealed.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT), a government body, asked BDRC Continental, the research firm, to "sweep" 156 major ecommerce sites, including pure-plays and those run by bricks and mortar players.

As a result, the OFT wrote to 62 leading vendors, having found they may not by "fully complying" with consumer protection law, and could face legal action if necessary amendments are not made.

One key issue concerned adding fees to the initial price shown. While 60% of sites indicated upfront that extra charges would have to be met prior to purchase, 24% of these platforms then also required that "unexpected" costs be paid.

Elsewhere, exactly 33% of the platforms providing information about cancellations seemed to impose "unreasonable restrictions" on customers' rights to a refund.

The primary objection raised by the OFT in this area was the common provision that items be returned in their original packaging or condition, which can "infringe on consumers' rights to reasonably inspect/assess the product".

Another 60% of digital retailers only let shoppers get in touch via a web contact form, not through an email address, as demanded by law. A further 2% made no electronic contact details available.

More positively, fully 99% of companies were found to provide information about when the goods ordered would be delivered, and 95% gave a postal address when the payment for products had to be made in advance.

"The OFT recognises that most businesses want to play fair with their customers and to comply with the law," said Cavendish Elithorn, senior director of the goods and consumer group at the organisation.

"We encourage all online retailers to check their websites so customers can be confident their rights are being respected when they shop online."

Data sourced from OFT; additional content by Warc staff