More than a third of top online retailers mislead customers with inaccurate information about the law
The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has warned 62 top online retailers that they face enforcement action if they don't ensure they comply fully with consumer protection laws.
The warning came after a website sweep carried out for the Government's consumer rights organisation earlier this year found some serious discrepancies between what companies were saying and the actual law.
The sweep of 156 sites for the OFT found 33 per cent placed unreasonable restrictions on customers' rights to a refund. This includes demanding products are returned in the original packaging or in original condition, both of which breach the Sale of Goods Act.
Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of companies failed to inform customers of additional compulsory charges until they reached the checkout. Six in ten (60 per cent) only provided a web form and no email address as a means of communication, which is illegal under the Electronic Commerce Regulations.
The OFT has not named the retailers it has caught in the latest sweep but has written to them raising its concerns and warning the traders that if they do not comply they "risk formal enforcement action."
The problem with retailers failing to abide by consumer statutory rights is not new. In 2007 the OFT published an Internet Shopping Market Study, which highlighted the lack of awareness of online shoppers' rights by businesses and consumers.
This was followed in 2010 by the publication of the OFT's E - Protection Strategy, which highlighted low levels of business compliance with relevant consumer protection law.
Cavendish Elithorn, Senior Director of the Goods and Consumer Group at 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."
The OFT has also produced a YouTube guide for shoppers, 'Buying online: know your consumer rights' as the Christmas shopping rush begins.
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