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News - 23 June 2007

We’re still not cracking the Internet

A new report from the Office of Fair Trading suggests that businesses could do a lot more to encourage Internet shopping. In particular they are not making the customer experience safe enough.

The UK online shopping market is valued at about £21.4bn at the moment with in excess of 20 million people choosing to buy goods and services online.

With more than a third of these people spending in excess of £1000 each it is important that businesses make them feel secure.

The report identifies areas where businesses can improve their performance. These include:

  • site security and awareness of consumer rights
  • improved understanding of obligations under the Distance Selling Regulations, and greater attention needs to be paid to addressing consumer worries over privacy and security.
  • improved understanding of consumer rights - The report said that six out of ten online businesses seemed to be imposing terms and conditions that could inhibit the consumer's legal rights.
  • improved understanding of the laws applicable to online purchasing - A number of businesses – nearly a third – were simply duplicating omissions or errors in their terms and conditions by copying those posted on other sites, assuming them to be both comprehensive and compliant with the law.

The study also found that almost 20% of Internet traders had no knowledge of consumers’ unconditional right to return an item bought over the Internet irrespective of whether it is damaged or not. Also 20% of online businesses failed to provide something as basic and mandatory as an email address where customers could reach them in event of a problem.

As a result, the OFT is proposing to spend the next six months consulting with businesses and consumer groups. The aim is to ensure that businesses have easy access to clear information and advice about selling online, and to help businesses address shoppers’ concerns and avoid the most frequent problems.

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