Retail Rap: Regulator Targets Online Stores
A watchdog is urging more than 60 top online retailers to change their websites after research found they may not be complying with consumer protection law.
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has written to 62 retailers ahead of the crucial Christmas period after checking 156 websites.
It found problems including unreasonable restrictions on refunds, inadequate contact details and unexpected charges at the checkout stage.
It has declined to name those it has contacted while it awaits the requested changes.
The checks found a third of sites that provided information on cancellation appeared to impose unreasonable restrictions on refunds.
They most commonly required the product to be in its original packaging or original condition, making it difficult for customers to assess it properly.
The research also revealed that 60% of the sites provided a web contact form rather than an email contact address, while 2% provided no electronic contact details at all.
While 60% indicated up front that compulsory charges would be added to the first price shown, 24% of these added further unexpected charges at the checkout.
However, the OFT also found that 99% gave details about delivery times and 95% supplied a full geographical address when payment was required in advance.
Those that do not make the required changes risk formal enforcement action from the OFT or local Trading Standards, the authority said.
Cavendish Elithorn, senior director of the goods and consumer group at the OFT, said: "The OFT recognises that most businesses want to play fair with their customers and to comply with the law.
"We encourage all online retailers to check their websites so customers can be confident their rights are being respected when they shop online. Businesses can find more information on our online Distance Selling Hub."