Conscious that online shopping in the UK has increased 350% over the past five years, the government's Office of Fair Trading is to study online retailing to check if consumers are getting a fair deal.

Given that more than 130,000 UK-based businesses trade online - a number that grows daily - it will be a major project. The task will be shrunk to manageable size by examining just four representative 'case study' sectors: electrical goods, music sales, airline tickets and online auctions.

Between them, the four sectors account for at least one third of all OK online shopping expenditure. The selection also places the largest online retailers such as Ebay, Amazon and iTunes firmly under the OFT microscope.

The investigation aims to establish whether:

  • Consumers are confident when shopping on the internet
  • They are aware of their rights when shopping online
  • Businesses understand and comply with the regulations for online shopping
  • Consumers receive the right level of regulatory protection.
Says John Fingleton, OFT chief executive: "This study is core to [our] mission to make markets work well for consumers. The OFT is committed to looking proactively at identifying and addressing new and future challenges, so as to ensure that consumers and the economy benefit from the innovation and choice that the internet can offer."

The results of the OFT investigation will be made public in the spring of 2007.

Data sourced from BBC Online; additional content by WARC staff