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Friday, June 4, 1999 Published at 01:37 GMT 02:37 UK


Net shopping under fire

The survey produced some worrying statistics

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

There is an urgent need for e-commerce rules to boost confidence in buying online, say consumer watchdogs worldwide.

Consumers International, a federation of 245 consumer organisations - including the UK's Consumers Association - said its survey showed that there were still obstacles to shopping online with complete trust.

The study, funded by the European Union, involved buying more than 150 items from 17 countries.

Barbie dolls to champagne

Each consumer organisation taking part tried to find one site in its own country and one abroad to buy a selection of items.

These included a dictionary, a doll, jeans, a hairdryer, computer software and hardware, chocolates and champagne.

The key findings were:

  • Eight of the items ordered took more than a month to reach their destination and at least 11 (eight per cent) never arrived.

  • Many sites did not give clear information about delivery charges.

  • Only 13% of sites promised that they would not sell customers' personal information on to a third party.

  • Only 53% of the companies had a policy on returning goods.

  • Only 65% of the sites provided confirmation of the order and only 13% told customers when their goods had been despatched.

  • In two cases, customers are still waiting for their money back more than four months after returning their goods.

Guidelines to be drawn up

Louise Sylvan, vice-president of Consumers International, said: "This study shows that, although buying items over the Internet can benefit the consumer by offering convenience and choice, there are still many obstacles that need to be overcome before consumers can shop in cyberspace with complete trust."

Chris Philips, Marketing Manager at JCP Computer Services, the London based e-commerce security company commented: "This study confirms the difficulties of establishing consumers' trust in the Internet as a shopping experience. With statistics like these and Visa claiming 47% of disputes and fraud cases were Internet-related, it is little wonder that Internet commerce is not producing the profits predicted two or three years ago.

"Trust takes time to build, and the Internet will not mature as a retail channel until trusted brands, like the banks for example, start to offer ways of underpinning trust relationships with guarantees of payment and service."

Next week, the US Federal Trade Commission will be holding a workshop on online consumer protection, in Washington DC, where the study will be presented.

In September, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development will hold a meeting to discuss a set of international guidelines for electronic commerce.

"Consumers@shopping: An international comparative study of electronic commerce" will be available in full in July.

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