UK: OFT Strategy on Online Shopping - Consumer Protection

John Downes's picture

The Office of Fair Trading has just set out a long-term strategy to protect consumers shopping online in the UK. Online shopping in the UK is worth approximately £50bn i.e. €58.8bn/$77.9bn.

The OFT investigation discovered that only around one in five firms are fully complying with consumer law for online shopping. The most common breaches include unfair restrictions on cancellations of orders for products. It also found that despite UK consumers being the biggest online shoppers in Europe, one in four people worry more about online shopping than offline. One in seven consumers has experienced a problem when buying online, of whom 37 per cent have since been reluctant to buy online again.

The strategy sets out key priorities to help prevent misleading selling, deceptive online advertising and malicious practices. These measures include:

  • Providing clarity on consumer law in relation to online shopping - the OFT is prioritising investigations that will either have a high deterrence or lead to significant behaviour change across online markets, or that will provide clarity on emerging issues. This includes work on novel marketing practices, cross-border enforcement with overseas consumer agencies, consumer-to-consumer transactions, liability, redress, and the legal status of digital products such as downloads. 
  • More effective enforcement - the strategy sets out that the OFT, police and Trading Standards Services (TSS), must close gaps to improve sharing of intelligence and co-ordination and continue to build on successes in mounting investigations affecting large numbers of online consumers. 
  • Business compliance - The strategy outlines continuing work with businesses to raise awareness of consumers' online rights. This includes working with website designers to ensure compliance is built into new sites, and maintaining dialogue with industry.
  • Empowering consumers - People need clear information about their rights when things go wrong. The strategy reinforces the need to ensure relevant consumer messages are consistent across organisations and avoid duplication, as well the importance of creating a national online reporting system.

Source: OFT Press Release.

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