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The BBC's Daniel Boettcher
"Regulations brought in last October gave home shoppers new legal protection"
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Tuesday, 13 March, 2001, 01:10 GMT
Web retailers 'breaking law'
Internet shopping has boomed
Online shoppers may be getting a raw deal
By Sue Emmett of the BBC's Consumer Affairs staff.

While shopping from home has become easier and increasingly popular there are concerns that customers may not be fully aware of their rights - and might even be getting a raw deal.

A survey by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) - which recently undertook a "mystery surf" found that more than half of the UK consumer websites it visited may have been breaking the law by failing to give any information on refund or exchange policies.

The OFT found the results of the survey worrying especially as the home shopping market - which includes online shopping, mail order and interactive TV - has doubled over the past five years and is expected to grow by 10bn by 2004.

Caroline Banks, the OFT's Director of Consumer Affairs said many shoppers did not seem to realise that laws which apply to other forms of retailing also apply to the internet.

There are very few laws that relate to ordinary purchases of goods and services, which don't apply to the internet

Caroline Banks
She underlined the OFT's determination to make sure they respect those laws.

"There are very few laws that relate to ordinary purchases of goods and services, which don't apply to the internet," she said.

"The difficulty with the internet is actually identifying where the people are, where they're based, tracking them down, and making sure the laws in the right country can be applied to them.

Losing 180 a year

"Nobody says it's easy, it's certainly more difficult than it is with other kinds of transactions, but it can be done."

It is estimated that each home consumer in the UK loses an average of 180 every year as a direct result of not knowing their legal rights amounting to an annual total of 8.3bn.

This has prompted the OFT to launch a consumer awareness campaign to advise shoppers on how to safeguard their rights and get the service they both deserve and pay for.

Guidelines for home shoppers

As part of this campaign, the OFT is issuing a booklet "Shopping from home - the facts at your fingertips" which highlights shoppers' rights under the "Distance Selling Shopping Regulations".

It tells shoppers they are entitled to:

  • A full refund if goods or services are not provided by an agreed date or within 30 days of placing an order if no date was agreed.

  • A "cooling off" period during which an order can be cancelled without any reason and a full refund made.

  • Protection against credit card fraud.

  • Clear information before placing on order, including the supplier's full name and address.

  • Written information (by letter, fax or e-mail) about purchase.

The booklet is available free of charge from the Office of Fair Trading, PO Box 366, Hayes UB3 1XB.

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