by Bob Howard
Money Box reporter
Some online stores have a poor delivery record
Shoppers are expected to spend £5bn buying online in December alone but it can involve an element of trust if you have not used a particular site before.
So what can customers do if their goods do not arrive? Can you get your money back and pursue the company responsible?
Gary Barnett from Southampton was looking for a microphone to use with his iPod last December and found what he wanted on a site called computerwebstore.co.uk. The website showed it was in stock and could be delivered in four to six days.
Gary paid for the product on his credit card but became worried when after more than eight days it had not arrived, as he told Radio 4's Money Box programme.
He said: "I thought I'd better e-mail them to check on the status of the order. Out of curiousity, I googled the company. I felt a little stupid because the number of complaints that were on the web about this particular company gave me considerable cause for alarm."
The website has no phone number, so Gary could only make contact via e-mail.
After the initial responses from the firm, he says he received no more replies and his microphone never arrived. In September Jamie Slack from Essex paid £340 for a hard drive via the same website which he says also never arrived.
Computerwebstore.co.uk is run by Howard Perry.
He told Money Box: "We don't have a response to these complaints without going through them all and they have all probably been sorted out. If orders are not shipped on time people complain and so this is our priority right now."
Mr Perry said he was looking at giving out a phone number, but as he had only one member of staff, it would be difficult to answer it.
When Money Box visited the address given on the website in Exchange Street East in Liverpool, it discovered it was simply a mail box.
Gary Barnett has complained to Liverpool Trading Standards. It says it is interested in the company and is looking into any complaints it receives.
It said investigating firms accused of frequently not delivering goods could take from six months to a year and it has closed five websites this year.
Stephanie Hudson, its enforcement co-ordinator, said the time was necessary to make sure only the right firms faced sanctions.
She said: "It is a slow process but you don't want to be taking criminal action against people who are just incompetent."
Mr Barnett also complained to the firm Sagepay, which provides the card payment services for computerwebstore.co.uk.
Jonathan Welch, operations consultant at Sagepay, said they were monitoring the company and would act if they received enough complaints.
He said: "We are in discussions with the merchant. If we see more than 4 -5% of complaints versus genuine transactions going through the account, we may take a view to closing the merchant down."
In the end both Gary and Jamie were refunded by their bank.
By law, firms generally must deliver within 30 days.
After that time consumer groups advise customers to contact their bank if no product or refund has been received from the retailer.
Before buying online from a previously unknown retailer, customers are advised to check consumer forums to see if there has been any history of complaints and make sure there is a contact phone number in case of problems.
Buying with a credit card also offers customers protection under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act if you spend more than £100.
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