October 16, 2012

OFT takes action against online retailers

It has recently been announced by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) that more than a third of the UK’s top online retailers are potentially breaching consumer protection laws.

An investigation by Watchdog uncovered various wrongdoings, such as imposing unreasonable restrictions on refunds, adding unexpected charges at the checkout and failing to provide an email contact address.

As a result of the investigation, Watchdog has contacted 62 retailers asking them to change their websites before Christmas.

The investigation included the likes of Amazon, Argos, John Lewis, Next and Tesco, and looked mainly at potential breaches of the Distance Selling Regulations, which are designed to protect the consumer when shopping online or entering into contracts at a distance from the supplier.

Among the most common issues found was the requirement that a product must be returned in its original packaging or in its original condition. The regulations deem this infringes the buyer’s rights to reasonably assess the product.

Mark Littlewood, our MD, comments: “It is important all websites comply with the Distance Selling Regulations. Those in breach face fines and could be taken to court. The OFT fairly recognises that the majority of online businesses want to respect their customers and comply with the regulations, but the fact that the investigation found some top online retailers breaking consumer laws is quite alarming.

“Online shopping has boomed in the last few years and new players in the field may be unaware of all the legal obligations they need to abide by. We urge all those involved in e-commerce to check their websites comply, especially those who are new to the scene.”

To support compliance with the regulations, the OFT has created a web-based guidance tool for businesses called the Distance Selling Hub, which provides guidance on the regulations that affect the buying and selling of goods and services via the internet, phone, mail order, etc, and how to resolve the key issues identified in the investigation.