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Friday, 16 March, 2001, 15:02 GMT
Your online shopping nightmares

Many companies advertising products for sale on the internet could be breaking the law.

The UK Office of Fair Trading undertook a "mystery surf" and 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 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. Many shoppers, the OFT said, did not seem to realise that laws which apply to other forms of retailing also apply to the internet.

Have you had any problems with buying goods online? What are the majors causes of stress with the process? How can shopping online be improved?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

My main complaint is the way some of the sites are designed

John C, England/ Germany
My main complaint is the way some of the sites are designed. Sites in the USA let you go all the way through filling-out the sales forms only to be told either the goods cannot be sent outside the USA or that you must order a minimum of $100 worth of goods! The other moan I have is being ripped-off by the Customs when the goods cross a border! I have had to pay import duty in Germany and in the UK on goods from the USA.
John C, Warwick, England/ Mainz, Germany

I've had no problems with internet shopping these past few years. Tips for success - only use reputable companies; check customer service policies; only use a store that displays a contact address and telephone number in addition to web info. My only concern is the time taken to buy anything - imagine having to wait 10 minutes to walk into a shop!
Mike, Chester, UK

I've had good and bad service. A pair of sunglasses from the States came without any problems. Two UK orders were delayed beyond what I would regard as good customer service - one was cancelled and I went to my local shop and got the item cheaper! Also, you can't always see the product before you buy. However, I'll still keep buying online.
John R, UK

Websites designed by aliens is by far the biggest problem I've encountered when buying via the internet, especially travel sites.
Chris, London, UK

I had to pay $35 shipping on a $10 product. And why the heck is everything in dollars?
Seth Black, UK

I've used the internet for a number of years when buying goods

Alastair, Glasgow, UK
I've used the internet for a number of years when buying goods, particularly Amazon for books and haven't had any problems. However, a couple of weeks ago I bought something from only to discover at the weekend that I was charged 6 times for the item!! Having phoned to get it sorted, the promised email of confirmation has not appeared. So it does leave me wary of using that site again.
Alastair, Glasgow, UK

Never had any problems with actual purchases it has to be said. However, the major stress is always whether the site in question is going to perform as intended. Sudden and inexplicable errors, frozen pages etc, do tend to put me off entering sensitive stuff like credit card details.
Gareth Walters, UK

I used Barclays to reduce costs on buying office products and found the service excellent.
Nick, UK

Many companies are very prompt in processing the initial order but have very little customer support structure if anything goes wrong. I bought a DVD from Amazon UK (my first purchase with them) that was faulty. I had to wait six weeks for a reply and refund, and still had to chase them for refund of my postage.
Colin Wells, UK

I have experienced very little stress

Marcus, UK
I have experienced very little stress. The orders are saved on the server if the connection or computer crashes mid-order. The only real problem I have is that it is too, too, TOO easy. I'm spending 00's every month. Delivery can be a problem if the outfit does not inform the customer of the delivery date. Apart from that WHEY HEY long live e-commerce....
Marcus, UK

After the novelty of buying airline tickets online over a year ago, I very quickly realised that the dreaded thought of having to do anything during your lunch hour was a thing of the past. I buy a lot of shopping on-line, simply because I don't have the time to run out to get it. Of course there are problems such as the waiting but the good will always outweigh the bad for me.
JC, Belfast

Ordered software from Microsoft. Total cost under 20.00. In order to get it delivered I ended up taking a half day off work as the goods had to be signed for by the person ordering the goods. The other option would have been to drive to the delivery company's depot and pick up the goods there - 40 miles each way. All for something that could have been put through my letterbox.
Alan, UK

I regularly use Amazon and have found the service excellent. I often go online on Sunday evening and by Tuesday morning my CD or book is falling on my front door mat.
Dave Harris, England

It was a complete nightmare!

Carlie, England
I purchased some CDs from a website. The 1st arrived ok, but the 2nd got lost, and the 3rd was despatched too late to arrive in time for a birthday present. I sent them many emails, most of which were returned undeliverable. It was a complete nightmare!
Carlie, England

Far from a nightmare I have had many very good experiences, mainly with Amazon, with online shopping. The search capability is excellent, the goods have arrived next day, exactly what I ordered and with full e-mail notification of the order progress. If all online experiences were like this then maybe it wouldn't get this bad press
Mike, England

I bought a microwave, breadmaker, and kettle from QXL on 5th February. They promised delivery in 10 days, but five weeks later still no goods and no definite delivery date despite numerous phonecalls and emails. One email was automatically answered in Spanish! Que?
Neil Deaville, UK

I've been lucky enough not to have had any problems with shopping online so far. However I think many sites could improve by showing the availability of an item on the page. If they don't, then sometimes you end up waiting for several weeks because you did not know at the time of order that the item was out of stock.
Jo Mitchell, UK

I have been purchasing, mainly computer components, on line for several years. I have bought items from DABS, INSIGH, AMAZON and BUY.Com and, without exception, have received my purchases promptly, securely and generally within the stated delivery time. However good my experiences have been to date I would be very reluctant to buy from a company I had never heard of or who had had a bad press from previous customers.
Tony Parker, UK

Modern society has determined new working habits resulting in new free time habits which once again result in different working habits

Jennifer, UK
I'm disappointed that Mark B thinks that on-line shopping is only done by people who are too lazy 'to get off their backsides'. Not true. We don't have a car and usually walk/cycle everywhere but some things are a little heavy to carry 2 miles especially when you have a baby on the way.
Modern society has determined new working habits resulting in new free time habits which once again result in different working habits. It's not lazy...just the way the world is going.
Jennifer, UK

In the last six months alone my internet bank started transferring 250 a day out of my account and an online travel site wrongly charged me for seven plane tickets rather than one. Both times the company accepted that there was a technical problem with their site but was unable to say what or to reassure me it wouldn't happen again. Hardly reassuring! I have gone back to telephone banking and travel agents where I have never encountered such problems.
John Williams, UK

Overall, I have had generally positive online shopping experiences. However the notable exception was who left me without ordered goods or refund for about 2.5 months until they sorted their financial problems out. Would I shop on-line again? Yes, but only with established names - the internet start-ups are just too shaky to trust at the moment.
Andy Ashworth, UK

Offline purchases that go wrong are much harder to sort out and I end up losing my temper with some poor assistant on the counter

Aegir, UK
Nearly everything I buy, I get through the net. The only bad experiences I've had are with high street companies and their half-hearted attempts to "get online". One in particular claimed that the address I'd given them "wasn't specific enough" despite being the full Royal Mail approved one. Then they said that I would have to redo the order, which I said I wouldn't, and then I had to contact them five times to get my money back.
I've found purely online companies (and just smaller "normal" companies) are "far" more responsive to customers, and give much better value for money than the usual big name high street ones. Offline purchases that go wrong are much harder to sort out and I end up losing my temper with some poor assistant on the counter - with online at least they know it's not personal... I'll stay with online shopping, if you don't mind.
Aegir, UK

I too have never had any problems with on-line shopping and I buy stuff very often. In reply to Nick Morgan's delivery problems, get the items delivered to your work place; that's what I do... no hassle at all.
Neil, Scotland

Happiness is online - feet up, glass of wine and ordering flowers at midnight! Bliss

Jo T, UK
I buy EVERYTHING online that I possibly can - why should I have to drive, park, pick, queue, etc when someone else will do it for me - and it's not because I can't get off my backside - I'll get off my backside to do things I WANT to do, like go for a walk, see friends, etc. etc. My time is precious and I treat it with respect - once I'd been down the online road, there was no turning back. Happiness is online - feet up, glass of wine and ordering flowers at midnight! Bliss.
Jo T, UK

I've never had any problems. The one time I had a faulty product it was replaced immediately. A lot of people claim things are iffy due to credit card details being passed around, but have they not noticed that until recently the credit card receipts they received in shops etc, and probably left lying around often had their credit card number printed in full on it. I think the lack of security is as much perception as fact. Just be sure you know which country you are legally transacting in.
Tim, UK

I've been buying a lot of stuff from online stores here. But two of the experiences have been worst for me. First, I ordered a Test preparation book from Barnes&Noble but with just two weeks before the exam date, I received a home cooking book from them! Then I ordered a backpack from , the finest store in real world and actually they sent two bags and got charged twice for the same thing.
Ahmer, US

Virtually all credit cards offer fraud protection for online transactions. I feel much safer entering my details on an encrypted web page than I do speaking them over an unencrypted phone line. However I do make sure that the website I'm buying from do not store my details after the purchase. Hackers don't sit analysing network packets waiting for a single credit card number to come past, they just attack the servers who store credit card details and provide the customer with their "easy buy" systems.
Al Priest, UK

How about a $55 shipping charge on a $125 watch from Orvis, USA?
Gary Day-Ellison, United Kingdom

Shopping online can be improved by speeding up the process

Keith Legg, UK
I've never had any real trouble shopping online, having bought books, CDs, computer games and flights amongst other things successfully. My only problem was when I ordered from an online supermarket (Tesco) and some of my food wasn't included. Shopping online can be improved by speeding up the process. There seems to be a delay in the secure environment on every machine I've used which leaves you unsure if your order has been accepted unless you get a confirmation e-mail back.
Keith Legg, UK

If you know what you are looking for, on-line buying can be quick, easy and usually cheaper. Unfortunately the goods are nearly always delivered in the week, during working hours. Therefore the time and hassle you have saved is cancelled out when you travel to collect the parcel from the depot! Maybe new homes should be built with parcel boxes as well as letterboxes?
Nick Morgan, UK

As someone who refuses to carry credit cards, I'm unable to shop on-line anyway! That said, the whole process seems decidedly iffy. As a finance professional I've spoken to colleagues about online shopping, and surprise, surprise, hardly any of them go anywhere near it! It seems very shortsighted to risk being defrauded simply because one cannot get off one's backside and go to the shops. Sums up modern society, I guess!
Mark B, UK

I tried to buy something at an auction on the Amazon web site. The person selling the goods took the money via my credit card but refused to send me the goods. Amazon said there was nothing they could do!!!
Peter Lingard, UK

I have had almost exclusively good experiences with online shopping

Lizz, UK
I have had almost exclusively good experiences with online shopping, except where clothes were concerned. I tried ordering some tops, but they had ended the line and didn't have any more when I phoned to find out where they were. I later got an email complaining that my credit card had not been authorised, when they'd already told me my order had been cancelled. And this was a high street name I use frequently in real life. But I won't bother with their online thing again. CD, book and auction purchases have so far been pretty good.
Lizz, UK

I have never bought anything from an online site unless I know two things. Firstly, that the company has a physical presence within the UK, and secondly the physical address of that presence. The worst problem I had with an order was a single item broken which was replaced without delay. The worst problem with online shopping overall is that they all want to send their goods by courier and refuse to give any idea of what time of day it will arrive, leaving me the choice of imposing on a neighbour to take my collection or carrying it home from work on the already overcrowded trains.
John B, UK

I have not yet had a problem with online shopping. I tend to use the more well-known online shops for security. I always check out the refund/ exchange policies when buying from a new retailer.
Ben Sales, UK

I've been buying stuff via the 'net since before a lot of people even knew the internet existed, and I've never had any problems whatsoever. How many people never allow restaurant waiters to take their credit card away when paying the bill? There's as much risk there of your card number being stolen as there is when you shop on the internet.
Mike Knell, Ireland

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13 Mar 01 | Business
Web retailers 'breaking law'
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