The European Commission has published the results of an investigation into websites selling electronic goods, and has found that more than half of them fail to comply with consumer protection laws.

Of the 369 websites selling items such as digital cameras, mobile phones, DVD players, and game consoles, 203 were flagged as requiring further investigation by national authorities, typically on the grounds that the websites failed to supply adequate information on consumer rights.

The most common problems highlighted that retailers were:

  • Providing no information or misleading information about the consumer's right to withdraw (a consumer has seven days to return the product without giving a reason, in exchange for a refund);
  • Providing misleading information on the legal right to a refund, replacement or repair on a faulty product;
  • Failing to display delivery and tax costs next to initial prices;
  • Not including contact details on the site (i.e. full name, address and e-mail).

The requirements to provide the necessary information are set out in the EU Distance Selling Directive, E-commerce Directive and Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, and failure to implement these requirements could ultimately lead to fines being imposed or a site being shut down. They apply to all commercial websites, and not just those selling electronic goods.

The websites were chosen either because of their success in the chosen countries, the volume of complaints against them, or their popularity on search engines when keywords related to electronic goods were entered. So far, three of the countries involved have named the websites investigated but the UK is yet to follow suit. Six of the sites investigated by UK authorities have been flagged, and will be told to correct their deficiencies or be sanctioned.