The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has spoken out ahead of the Christmas season to warn more than 60 online retailers that their websites may breach consumer protection law. It has written to 62 leading online retailers to raise concerns following a sweep of 156 UK websites. The sweep, part of the OFTs work to ensure that consumers can shop online with confidence, found many appeared to fall short of consumer law.
Retailers who do not amend their websites to make sure they comply with the law could be subject to enforcement action taken either by the OFT or by local enforcement officers.
The OFT detailed three main concerns arising from its sweep of websites, of which 80% sold goods and 20% services. First, it said that 33% of sites that provided information on cancellation “appeared to impose unreasonable restrictions on customers’ rights to a refund.” Most commonly, it said, traders demanded that goods were returned in their original packaging or in original condition. This, said the OFT, could infringe consumers’ rights to inspect and assess the product.
Second, the OFT said that 60% provided a web contact form rather than the email contact address that is required by the E-Commerce Regulations. Some 2% provided no electronic contact details at all.
Third, the OFT said that while 60% explained upfront that compulsory charges would be added to the first price shown, 24% went on to add more unexpected charges at the check-out. But the sweep also found most sites complied with the distance selling regulations in other key areas. Some 99% of sites detailed when the goods would be delivered or the service would start, and 95% provided a full postal address when advance payment was required.
Cavendish Elithorn, Senior Director of the goods and consumer group at OFT, said: “The OFT recognises that most businesses want to play fair with their customers and to comply with the law. We encourage all online retailers to check their websites so customers can be confident their rights are being respected when they shop online.”