The UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) wrote to 62 of the top online retailers last week to point out that they need to change their website terms and conditions in order to avoid infringing consumer protection laws during the upcoming busy Christmas period. The OFT’s actions follow on from a report published by it earlier this year in which a number of examples of non-compliance by many online retailers had been reported.

Customers shopping online in the UK typically have greater rights than those customers shopping face to face. Earlier this year, the OFT conducted an audit of certain retailers’ websites to investigate their compliance with the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 (DSRs) and other legislation and as a result complied a report titled Websweep Findings 2012.

The OFT's report
The report highlighted several areas of concern to the OFT including:

  • Cancellation rights and refunds
    Of the websites which provided information on consumers’ rights to cancel purchased goods or services and obtain a refund, 33% appeared to impose restrictions on these rights in breach of consumer protection law.
  • Compulsory charges
    72% of the websites reviewed added compulsory charges to the initially quoted price of goods or services to be purchased.
  • Contact details
    E-Commerce Regulations (ECRs) require website operators to provide an e-mail contact address on their websites. Operators of 60% of the websites investigated had only provided a web contact address, and in 2% of cases, neither an e-mail or a web contact form had been provided.

The report found that most of the other obligations under the DSRs had been complied by with the online retailers. For example all of websites examined provided details on how payments can be made and set out the technical steps required to conclude the contract with the retailer.