THE UK SALES WATCHDOG, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is writing to online stores and telling them to play by its rules or face the consequences.
The OFT said that it performed a virtual sweep of more than 150 top UK online stores in advance of the Christmas shopping season and found that almost half of them are behaving badly enough to warrant a strongly worded letter.
The firms are accused of not fully complying with UK consumer laws, such as the Distance Selling Regulations, that amongst other things, allow for a seven day cooling off period on purchases.
A third of websites were found to have been not playing fair with their returns policies and doing things to avoid paying out refunds. The OFT said that it is common to find retailers insisting that items be returned in original packaging or condition, which would make it difficult for the purchaser to assess it in the first place.
Around two thirds of websites do not have email contact information but a hellish web form instead and two percent offered no contact details at all.
"The OFT recognises that most businesses want to play fair with their customers and to comply with the law," said Cavendish Elithorn, OFT senior director of the Goods and Consumer Group.
"We encourage all online retailers to check their websites so customers can be confident their rights are being respected when they shop online." µ