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Consumers need protection in e-shopping

business Updated: Nov 09, 2008 20:42 IST

Hindustan Times
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Two studies on electronic shopping, conducted some years ago by Consumers International, a coalition of consumer organisations, provide valuable insights on problems in e-shopping.

The researchers found that many sites failed to give accurate and full information on the total cost of the product including delivery charges, the terms of the contract, the return and refund policy, dispute redressal mechanisms and other vital information before consumers got to the point of placing an order.

Researchers actually bought goods on the Internet as part of the study. They found that that in 20 out of 340 such orders placed, the goods failed to arrive. In six out of these 20, consumers were charged and had to seek a refund.

In nearly one in 10 cases where the goods were returned, the retailer failed to provide a refund. Where it was given, it took a long time to come! While in most cases it took about ten days for delivery, in some cases, it took 30 to 60 days. It was found that even where the goods ordered were out of stock, retailers promised quick delivery and failed to keep their word.

Though India was not part of the study, one can safely say things are not much different here. We do need a comprehensive consumer protection regulation for e-shopping

The UK, implementing a European initiative, in 2000 passed the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations that conferred specific rights on consumers who make long-distance purchases. The Regulations provide for a seven-day “cooling off” period during which a consumer can cancel or withdraw from the sales contract and return the goods without any explanation.

The British rules also give consumers the right to receive clear information about the goods and services in question upfront.. Once an order is placed, the consumer has to get a written confirmation of the original information, plus additional information such as the method of cancelling the order, details of guarantees and after-sales service, and terms on the date of delivery even who will bear the postal charges on returned goods!

If the goods are found to be faulty or are not what the consumer ordered, the consumer is entitled to a full refund including the delivery charges, plus the cost of returning the goods. The rules also provide for credit card protection against home shopping fraud — the consumer gets a refund from the card issuer in such a case. I’ll say Amen to all that.