Sort out refunds by Christmas, OFT tells top websites

The Office of Fair Trading finds 60 online retailers put unreasonable restrictions on refunds and tells them to improve by Christmas.

by Elizabeth Anderson
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
The government has recently clamped down on consumers being treated unfairly by traders, and the latest to come under the microscope are online retailers.

More than 60 companies have been ordered to change their websites before the Christmas rush by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). In a sweep of 156 of the UK’s biggest websites, the consumer watchdog found that 62 were placing unreasonable restrictions on refunds, inadequate contact details and unexpected charges at the point of checkout.

The OFT has refused to name which websites are guilty of misleading customers, but the most common rule being flouted related to refunds. Some retailers are requiring the product to be in its original packaging or original condition, making it difficult for customers to reasonably inspect the item before deciding whether or not it’s suitable.

The authority also found that almost two thirds failed to provide an email contact address, favouring a web contact form instead – while 2% provided no electronic contact details at all. Almost a quarter (24%) added unexpected charges once the customer reached the checkout, including card or booking charges and luggage fees.

The OFT has already responded to consumers’ anger about delivery charges being applied late in the purchasing process and made clear that consumers in remote locations shouldn’t be excluded. Online businesses should ‘allow customers to return faulty goods for free, and to return unwanted goods that fall within the statutory seven-day cooling off period for free unless customers have been notified in writing that charges would apply,’ the watchdog said last month.

But there was some good news. Almost all of the websites are now complying with the Distance Selling Regulations (DSRs), with 99% giving details about delivery times and 95% supplying a full geographical address when payment was required in advance.

The OFT has written to companies breaching the law and those that do not get their act together and comply with the law could be taken to court and face fines, it said.

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