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Many online retailers breaching the law, says OFT

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Just 20 per cent on online retailers are complying with the rules on internet trading, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has said.

Research by the OFT has found that online shopping is worth £50 billion a year to the economy but that innovations in internet trade must be matched by strict enforcement of the rules governing the fair treatment of consumers.

The study revealed that just one in five on firms that trade online comply with consumer protection law. The most common breaches of the regulations centre on unfair restrictions on the cancellation of orders.

Although UK consumers are the most enthusiastic online shoppers in Europe, one in seven customers has experienced a problem while making an online purchase, of whom 37 per cent expressed a reluctance to shop electronically again.

As a result of the research, the OFT has produced a strategy aimed at helping to prevent misleading online selling.

The measures include working with businesses to raise awareness of consumers’ online rights and ensuring that people are given clear information about their rights when things go wrong.

Barney Wyld, the OFT’s senior director of strategy and communications, said: “The UK has a vibrant internet economy, with strong online participation and generally high levels of trust.

“However the way we shop online is constantly changing and organisations protecting consumers need to be highly responsive to emerging or complex online shopping problems.

“We hope this strategy will lead to greater understanding by all concerned of consumer rights online, to enable further innovation and growth, whilst ensuring fair competition.”

Online trading businesses share many of the obligations of high street shops, but there are some additional requirements when handling electronic purchases.

Online retailers must supply clear information about the goods or services offered before anyone buys them. They must also provide written confirmation of this information after the purchase has been made. There must be a seven working-day cooling off period during which an order can be cancelled without any reason and a full refund made. A full refund should also be made if the goods or services are not provided by the agreed date. Where there is no agreed date, the shopper is entitled to a refund if the goods or services are not provided within 30 days.