OFT concerns on ecommerce legal compliance

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT), has published a report about the legal compliance of 152 top ecommerce websites in the UK. The report, compiled by BDRC Continental, reveals that as many of half of the websites might not be adhereing to basic consumer rules such as the Distance Selling Regulations. The OFT has written to 62 companies expressing their concerns.

Key findings from the research include:

33% of websites investigated appeared to include “unreasonable restrictions” on a buyer’s right to a refund. The most common concern was that the returns policy demanded that the returned product be in the original packaging or in original condition. The OFT is concerned that this requirement can infringe on a conumer’s right to reasonably inspect their purchase.

60% of the websites provided only a web contact form and not an email address, as required by the Ecommerce Regulations. Astonishingly, 2% had no means of online contact at all.

24% of the ecommerce websites examined were considered to add unexpected charges during the checkout process.

Cavendish Elithorn of the 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. Businesses can find more information on our online Distance Selling Hub.”

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Comments

It's well known in the industry that many retailers are struggling to come to terms with consumer laws in the UK as well as the EU regulations. These are constantly being updated and altered and it can sometimes feel like a full time job just keeping up-to-date with it all. This is obviously difficult for most internet retailers, and impossible for others. Our suggestion to overcome this is simple – get an external audit and accreditation to ensure your website is compliant with local consumer laws and regulations across Europe. By seeking help of this kind retailers will avoid getting unpleasant warnings from the likes of the Office of Fair Trading and, importantly, consumers will be able to trust in the service the website.

Jean-Marc Noel, Managing Director at Trusted Shops • 16th October 2012 •

We are long overdue a proper review of the distance selling law that provides appropriate protection for online sellers as well as for buyers and that reduces our transaction costs. Currently we effectively have a 'try before you buy' system in place with no incentive or penalty to buyers to consider more carefully before hitting the purchase button. These laws come from a different age when catalogue selling was the norm and they now need a serious overhaul given the much greater experience most of us have of purchasing online nowadays. With the exception of some key categories (clothing, shoes etc where there are some real issues) the vast majority of new items bought online do NOT need to be 'inspected' at all by the buyer! Do you really need to inspect an electric razor, keyboard, mouse, router, printer, book, pen, TV etc to determine that this was what you intended to buy and that it actually arrived given all the online info available prior to purchase and the excellent packaging provided (i.e. you do not need to rip the packaging apart to see that the Sony DVD in the box is what you ordered). Of course not and actually it just encourages ever more daft consumption without proper thought before the purchase by many buyers. Buyers should have NO right of return unless the item is materially not what they actually ordered or it is actually faulty unless the seller chooses to offer this as a competitive advantage in the market (think Amazon returns). Far to much airtime is given over to consumers 'rights' and far to little about reducing the costs for online businesses. We need and are long overdue having a strong voice that represents our interests and gives Which and the other consumer spin machines a run for their money. To date we have not found an national organisation that speaks up for online sales businesses and gets our voice heard across the media.

Cambridge_Blue • 22nd October 2012 •