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OFT urges top retailers to change their websites

The Office of Fair Trading has revealed that it has written to 62 of the top online retailers ahead of the busy festive period after an analysis of 156 websites found signs that many may not be fully complying with consumer protection law.


OFT urges top retailers to change their websites

The analysis looked for potential breaches of the Distance Selling Regulations  and other consumer protection laws and is part of the OFT’s ongoing work to protect consumers shopping online. The OFT said it had raised a number of concerns with the retailers.

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

60% provided a web contact form rather than an email contact address, as required by the E-Commerce Regulations while 2% 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 consumers such as providing details on when the goods would be delivered or a full geographical address when payment was required in advance. 

The OFT said 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.

Cavendish Elithorn, senior director of the Goods and Consumer Group at 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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