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Thursday, June 24, 1999 Published at 10:02 GMT 11:02 UK


E-commerce code of practice launched

A WebTrader must agree to an 18-point code of practice

By Internet Correspondent Chris Nuttall

A code of practice for online retailers has been launched by the UK Consumers' Association (CA). It is offering full refunds and legal support if consumers have difficulty shopping online with its approved traders.

The code is called Web Trader and uses the expertise of the CA's Which? Online Internet arm.

The aim is to encourage the highest possible standards from e-commerce sites and ensure consumers are treated fairly when shopping on the Net.

'Mystery shopping' may solve failings

Twenty companies have registered as Which? Web Traders and can display an official logo on their sites. They include the Barclay Square online mall, Co-op Travelcare and Carphone Warehouse.

To get the Web Trader seal of approval, they are subject to checks by CA lawyers and had to agree to an 18-point code of practice. Random checks and "mystery shopping" will be carried out to ensure they stick to the guidelines.

Any customers losing money through a Web Trader will get a refund from the CA and can also take advantage of legal advice and support.

"Confidence essential": Minister

"CA research shows that to boost this new way of shopping, consumer confidence must be improved dramatically," said Sheila McKechnie, Director of the Consumers' Association.

"The Which? Web Trader scheme has been launched to give online shoppers the same level of confidence as enjoyed on the High Street. When consumers see the Which? Web Trader logo, they will know they can shop with confidence".

Speaking at the launch Kim Howells, Consumer Affairs Minister said:

"It is a great initiative. Online shopping offers great choice, value and convenience. But confidence is essential for its success. The CA is working with the Alliance for Electronic Business on the core principles for other online codes of practice. Co-operation on consumer protection is vital in such a fast moving market if we are to succeed in making it secure".

Surveys highlight need for code

The National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), in a study of Internet crime published on Tuesday, said complaints of alleged fraud grew twentyfold between 1996 and 1998. It recommended a response of an international body endorsing sites that fulfilled certain criteria.

Earlier this month, Consumers International, a federation of 245 consumer organisations - including the CA - said there was an urgent need for e-commerce rules to boost confidence in buying online.

A survey it carried out, that involved buying more than 150 items from 17 countries, revealed there were still many obstacles to shopping online with complete trust.

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