A recent investigation from the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has shown that up to a third of the UK’s leading online retailers could be in breach of consumer laws.
The OFT, which works to protect the rights of consumers, conducted a study into the country’s leading 156 websites, and found that as many as 62 may not be in full compliance with consumer protection law. Those found to be contravening laws have been asked to make the required changes by Christmas.
Two of the most common problems encountered by the OFT were unreasonable restrictions on refunds and the addition of compulsory charges to shoppers’ bills without prior warning.
Another problem which was particularly prominent among clothing sites were returns policies which stated that returned goods must be in their original packaging or condition. This is a contravention of the buyer’s right to inspect or assess a product.
So what are the rights of online customers?
- Unless otherwise agreed, goods should always be delivered within 30 days
- You are free to cancel any order within seven working days in the majority of cases to receive a full refund. This period may be longer for financial products
- Goods do not need to be returned in their original packaging
- Refunds should include delivery charges, although you may have to pay for returns
- Customers are responsible for returning items safely
- If items need to be returned due to a fault then postage must be paid by the retailer
Another common breach of E-Commerce regulations was the failure to provide an email contact address; two thirds merely provided a web contact. However, despite these failings the OFT survey found that most of the online retailers they checked complied with the vast majority of their obligations dictated by the Distance Selling Regulations.
One of the regulations commonly upheld was that goods should be delivered in 30 days. After delivery customers are entitled to a 7-day cooling off period when orders can be cancelled and customers can receive a full refund, although this time period is longer for financial products.
With the boom in online shopping over the past decade the OFT has become increasingly active in regulating internet retailers. Those sites that ignore warnings from the OFT could face a court appearance and subsequent fines, although in the vast majority of cases to date, websites make the alterations before this stage is reached.
To help you keep your ecommerce site compliant, a video from the OFT, explaining the rights of consumers is available here.