OVER two-thirds of Internet shopping websites are failing to comply with laws designed to protect online buyers, according to a shock new survey carried out by trading standards officers across Scotland.
The survey was carried out by the Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland (SCOTSS) and involved officers from 22 Scottish councils.
The trading standards officers discovered that more than half the websites selling consumer goods failed to provide a full refund when required and that one in four “illegally” deducted the original delivery charge when money was refunded.
They also found that 43 per cent of sites failed to inform consumers about their right to cancel an order and one in five added unexpected surcharges onto prices late in the buying process
A spokesman for the society said: “ Officers are taking action to remedy the problems discovered.”
He explained: “A total of 220 websites selling a wide range of consumer goods across the UK were checked for compliance with a range of consumer protection laws covering issues such as informing consumers
of all charges and providing them with accurate information, cancellation rights and refunds when due. The websites were chosen at random and not selected on the basis of existing known problems.”
Colin Baxter, the chairman of SCOTSS said: “These are worryingly high levels of non-compliance. These legal requirements are important for a variety of reasons: to protect online buyers, to ensure fairness and a level playing field for reputable retailers, and to ensure the smooth working of the internet marketplace.”
He continued: “Since the early days of e-Commerce, trading standards officers have worked hard with significant success to ensure that internet sellers are complying with the law. However, with the continuing expansion of e-Commerce in the UK, new entrants are joining the market every day, many of them small micro-businesses with little experience of consumer law.
“It is a battle for law enforcement to keep up.”
During the survey officers carried out a series of test purchases to check how consumers are treated by various shopping websites. Purchases were also cancelled within the statutory seven day period to test whether website operators were following their obligations.
The SCOTSS spokesman said: “Non-compliances were followed up by officers either directly contacting the retailer involved, or referring to the trading standards service for the area where the company is based.”
He added: “It is common for Trading Standards Services to have regular meetings with locally-based companies – especially those that trade across the UK – to solve any legal compliance issues in a consultative and positive way.
“In the small number of cases where formal action such as prosecution is necessary, we will not hesitate to take action.”