Top Online Retailers Breach Distance Selling Regulations

Buy NowThe Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has notified 62 of the UK’s 156 top online retailers to inform them that they may not be fully complying with the Distance Selling Regulations (DSRs).

The online retailers, from more than a third of the UK’s top trading websites, have been asked by the OFT to change their websites.

Breaches in DSRs that the OFT are concerned about were found in a "websweep" that looked at whether online shopping websites were in compliance with the regulations.

The Distance Selling Regulations were designed to protect online customers as well as consumers who buy through mail order, phone, fax and/or digital TV.

Common problems found in the OFT’s websweep included:

  • Online retailers failing to provide their FULL geographical address details, instead either showing a PO Box (12%) or sometimes no address at all (5%)
  • Websites failing to provide the seller’s email address with many sites having only a contact form (60%) and 2% of websites having no method of electronically contacting the seller.
  • Differences between the initial offer price and the final price which often included compulsory additional charges, usually for delivery fees. Around 54% of sites in the sweep had additional compulsory charges.

Cancellation rights and refunds were another concern. Where applicable, in 79% of the sites reviewed, consumers have the right to cancel and only one website failed to inform consumers of this right.

In some cases the online retailers imposed restrictive conditions on consumers’ rights to cancel and get a refund – The most common of these unreasonable conditions was that customers should return products in their orginal packaging, in original condition and thatthe goods must be unused. Consumers have a right to "reasonably inspect and assess the priduct".

Traders who do not make the ammendments to their websites could be subject to further action, risking enforcement action from the OFT itself or local Trading Standards services.

Overall though, the OFT was satisfied that most retailers were compliant with the Distance Selling Regulations with Cavendish Elithorn, the Senior Director of the Goods and Consumer Group at the OFT, saying:

"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."

For more information visit the OFT’s Distance Selling Hub and watch their Youtube video, A Quick Guide to the DS Hub. You can also read the OFT’s Websweep Findings Market Research Report 2012Online shopping website compliance with the DSRs. Websweep Findings 2012 (PDF)

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For further business advice on selling online see our articles and guides on Setting Up Shop Online – 10 Top Tips, Selling Successfully Online and the Selling Successfully Online Video

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