On 12 October 2012, the Office for Fair Trading issued a report and press release following an investigation into online retailers and their compliance with the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations and other consumer protection law. 

The OFT surveyed 156 of the top online retailers’ websites to examine their terms and conditions. Of these 156 retailers, the OFT has written to 62 to warn them that they may not be compliant with consumer protection regulation.

The OFT has a number of key areas of concern, including:

  • restrictions on customers’ rights to receive a refund after cancellation;
  • restrictions on customers’ rights to reasonably inspect and assess the product and then return it if defective;
  • a lack of contact details on retailers’ websites; and
  • unexpected charges imposed at the point of checkout – a practice known as “drip pricing” about which the OFT has previously raised concern, as noted in our previous Law-Now.

The OFT has announced has announced that retailers who do not amend their terms and conditions in order to comply with consumer protection regulation will run the risk of formal enforcement action from the OFT or local Trading Standards Services.

Cavendish Elithorn, Senior Director of the Goods and Consumer Group at the OFT said:

“The OFT recognises that most businesses want to play fair with their customers and to comply with the law. We encourage all online retailers to check their websites so customers can be confident their rights are being respected when they shop online.”

Overall, the OFT was satisfied that almost all retailers provide satisfactory information in relation to delivery and that most retailers are generally compliant with consumer regulation.  However, with the OFT’s report having been pointedly released just before the Christmas rush, retailers (particularly those contacted by the OFT) should urgently revisit their policies to avoid enforcement by the OFT. 

If you are concerned that your terms and conditions don’t comply with consumer protection law, get in touch with our industry experts detailed below.

For the full press release please click here.

For the full report please click here.