Online selling - complying with the law - Business Works
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Online selling - complying with the law

Cavendish Elithorn, Senior Director of the Goods and Consumer Group at OFT As part of the its ongoing work to ensure that consumers can shop confidently online, the OFT has carried out a sweep of websites to look for potential breaches of the Distance Selling Regulations (DSRs) and other consumer protection laws. As a result, it has written to 62 of the top online retailers ahead of the busy Christmas period after the sweep of 156 websites found signs that many may not be fully complying with consumer protection law.

Key areas of concern that the OFT has raised with retailers include:

  • 33% 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 can infringe on consumers’ rights to reasonably inspect / assess the product.
  • 60% provided a web contact form rather than an e-mail contact address, as required by the E-Commerce Regulations. Two per cent provided no electronic contact details at all.
  • While 60% of sites indicated upfront that compulsory charges would be added to the first price shown, 24% of these sites went on to add further unexpected charges at the check-out.

However, the sweep also found that the majority of sites were compliant with the DSRs in providing other required information to the consumer. For example, 99% of sites provided details on when the goods would be delivered or the service would start and 95% provided a full geographical address when payment was required in advance.

Traders that do not make amendments to comply with the law risk formal enforcement action from the OFT or Local Trading Standards Services.

To support compliance with the regulations the OFT 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.

The OFT has also produced a short video to help consumers understand their rights when they are shopping online. The video, Buying online: know your consumer rights is available on YouTube.

"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 OFT. "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'."

The Distance Selling Hub and provides information for businesses about the rules and regulations that apply to the sale of certain goods and services over the Internet, telephone, through interactive TV, by text or by mail order. More information can be found at:

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