SafeBuy, the internet retailing watchdog, has released new research that warns internet retailers are not bothering with laws and regulations. In fact, the web is full of retailers that ignore the law and instead operate in the web of marshal law.
Founder and CEO of Safebuy, Richard Jones, stated that they were shocked to find that a quarter of all SMEs online were in breach of online trading legal requirements. He explained that many of the breaches were simple things that every retailer should know and comply with. For instance, choosing to display an email address, phone number, and geographic address on their website or offering a legally compliant return policy for their goods.
SafeBuy was set up in 2003 following the closure of the ‘Which? Web Trader Scheme’. It provides consumer confidence by producing and policing a comprehensive Code of Best Practice for the UK’s Internet retailing sector. SafeBuy assesses websites for compliance with this code of practice and with relevant UK and EU trading laws. Websites which pass the accreditation are able to display the SafeBuy Consumer Care confidence mark on their website.
SafeBuy also operates a comprehensive web retailer star rating scheme (accessed via the SafeBuy Stars logo on appropriate sites) which is moderated and cannot be influenced or ‘fixed’ by the retailers and thus gives a highly accurate consumer rating of that retailer.
To back up the Code of Practice, the organisation operates a Mediation Service, which has brought satisfactory outcomes to almost 2,500 consumers who had complaints against internet retailers. This service is completely free to consumers in relation to SafeBuy-accredited retailers.
Said SafeBuy CEO Richard Jones, “All of SafeBuy’s services are designed to give consumers confidence and safety in their online shopping. Whenever they see the SafeBuy logo displayed by an online retailer they can be confident that it is a good, law abiding, retailer to do business with.”
The research reviewed 225 random SME websites that are not accredited by SafeBuy. The research found that:
• Seven per cent did not advise the customer before paying that they have a legal “right of return” if they change their mind after ordering.
• Six per cent did not provide a geographic address where they conduct their business from. This is a legal requirement.
• An astounding twenty per cent did not publish a contact e-mail address. The frequently used ‘contact us form’ is not an alternative. On this matter the law is unequivocal, stating: ‘… the details of the service provider, including his electronic mail address, which makes it possible to contact him rapidly… must be displayed’.
Commenting on the findings, Jones said, “there are an estimated 65,000 UK online retailing sites that are not yet accredited by SafeBuy. Extrapolating the research findings could mean some 16,250 of those websites are not complying with the law.
“One highly unacceptable finding of the research”, he continued, “was the number of websites which attempt to prevent consumers from being aware of their legal rights. A significant number of websites went to shocking lengths to prevent consumers exercising their legal right of return. We found many examples like these:
‘We will use our discretion in deciding whether to accept a return.’
‘If you open the packaging you can’t return the products.’
“If you’ve tested the product… you’ll have to pay us a fee.’
But the research team’s absolute favourite was:
‘Returns must be in perfect condition.’
…which to our minds at SafeBuy tries to rule out sending back any faulty or damaged-in-transit goods. These statements are all most clearly illegal!”
Does your website break the law? A checklist
SafeBuy’s mission is to make a web shopping as safe as possible for consumers – so here is a 10-point checklist for web retailers and consumers:
1. Does the website display the consumer’s rights to return unwanted goods. And is there a clear ‘How To Return’ section?
2. Does the website clearly display a geographic address, contact email and phone number – not just a ‘contact us’ form?
3. Is the method and cost of delivery clearly indicated before the order is placed?
4. Is the security level for each online payment option clearly shown?
5. Does the website tell the consumer how to lodge a complaint and what the complaint procedure is?
6. Does the website clearly show the contract terms – including guarantees and warranties? And does it clearly state that these do not affect the consumer’s statutory rights?
7. Does the site clearly state that all the consumer’s data will be kept private in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998 and the EC Communications Directive 2003?
8. Does the website state that the retailer adheres to the terms of the UK Sale of Goods Act and the EU Distance Selling Regulations?
9. Are phone numbers on the website for queries relating to an order charged at no more than the normal UK inland rate? If technical support lines are charged at a premium rate is this clearly stated?
10. Does the site display the SafeBuy accreditation logo to give consumers absolute confidence that all of these factors and many more have been independently verified?
Web retailers and consumers can read the SafeBuy code of practice (from which these 10 points are taken) for Internet retailing at safebuy.org.uk
How traders can ensure compliance
Web retailers who wants to be sure they comply with law and the code of practice for internet retailing should contact SafeBuy and go through the accreditation process which, once they are fully compliant, will permit them to display the SafeBuy consumer confidence logo on their website. For details go to safebuy.org.uk
People Power needed
In conclusion, SafeBuy’s Jones said, “This situation with potentially over 16,000 internet retailers contravening the law is frankly outrageous. We knew that there were ‘dodgy traders’ out there but this number of online retailers breaking the law is patently unacceptable. What we now need is ‘People Power’ based on consumers educating themselves on their rights and taking retailers to task.
“To help everybody we’ve published a free quick 5-point checklist for consumers at http://care.safebuy.org.uk and a much more comprehensive free 8-point checklist for retailers with loads more information to help them in both legal and marketing terms also at safebuy.org.uk
“If a web retailer is not a subscriber to the SafeBuy accreditation scheme consumers should challenge them as to why they are not. And if you have a problem with them go straight to your Citizens Advice Bureau or use the cheap and easy Small Claims Court process to get satisfaction.”