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Most online retailers 'breaking the law' - research

Most UK online retailers are breaking the law and international guidelines aimed at protecting consumers shopping on the internet, says the National Consumer Council (NCC).

A survey by Consumers International carried out in 15 countries showed that UK businesses were failing to provide customers with important information about their purchases, some of which is required by law.

Only 17% of UK sites met legal requirements and informed people of their rights to cancel orders within a few days of delivery. Only one in three UK and EU sites gave information about item availability and just one in six about dealing with problems, breaching international guidelines set in 1999.

The survey also showed that only 40% of the UK businesses tested delivered within the time quoted and around 30 per cent of UK and EU sites gave no information about shipping to other countries.

The NCC is calling for the government to raise awareness of the laws and guidelines. It is also pushing for tougher policing of the laws and for stronger powers for the Office of Fair Trading, as proposed in the forthcoming Enterprise Bill.

NCC chairman Deirdre Hutton said: "As this survey shows, the consumer experience of online shopping is just not good enough. It is especially disappointing that despite the introduction of voluntary international guidelines and EU-wide laws to improve consumer protection and boost confidence in e-commerce, the consumer experience has improved so little since the first global e-shopping survey two years ago. Small wonder that e-shopping is such a tiny slice of retail sales."

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