Top online retailers pulled up for not complying with consumer protection laws

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OFT warns of fines and legal action if practices continue

The OFT has wagged its governmental fingers at 62 of the top online retailers following concerns that they may not be complying with consumer protection law.

The watchdog has taken action ahead of the Christmas period, after a sweep of 156 websites flagged up possibilities there could be potential breaches of the Distance Selling Regulations (DSRs) and other consumer protection laws.

It found that 33 percent of sites that provided information on cancellation appeared to impose unreasonable restrictions on customers’ rights to a refund. Most common was requiring that the product must be in the original packaging or in the original condition, which the watchdog said could infringe on consumers’ rights to reasonably inspect/assess the product.

The watchdog also found that 60 percent provided a web contact form rather than an email contact address, as required by the E-Commerce Regulations. Two percent were also found to provide no electronic contact details at all.

The OFT also pointed out that while 60 percent of sites indicated upfront that compulsory charges would be added to the first price shown, 24 percent of these sites went on to add further unexpected charges at the check-out.

However, there was also good news, with the sweep also uncovering that the majority of sites were compliant with the DSRs in providing other required information to the consumer.

The watchdog said this included 99 percent of sites providing details on when the goods would be delivered or the service would start and 95 percent providing a full geographical address when payment was required in advance.

It has now warned that traders who do not make amendments to comply with the law will risk formal enforcement action from the OFT or Local Trading Standards Services.

To support compliance with the regulations the it has created a web-based guidance tool for businesses, the Distance Selling Hub, which includes tips to resolve the key issues identified in the sweep.

Top tips include being clear and open about cancellation rights and providing a full refund plus a refund of delivery charges when things go wrong.