Top sites warned over hidden costs

Many of the UK’s top online retailers have been warned by the Office of Fair Trading to improve their pricing transparency as the Christmas rush approaches, after a probe by the watchdog uncovered a raft of hidden charges.
The OFT has written to 62 major etailers after a sweep of 156 websites found that many were not fully complying with consumer protection law, often adding delivery charges or other fees that were not disclosed until final purchase.
The sweep looked for potential breaches of the Distance Selling Regulations (DSRs) and other consumer protection laws and is part of the OFT’s ongoing work to ensure that consumers can shop confidently online.
While 60% of those sites which were probed indicated upfront that compulsory charges would be added, 24% of these sites went on to add further unexpected charges at the check-out.
In addition, 33% of sites that provided information on cancellation imposed “unreasonable restrictions on customers’ rights to a refund”, said the OFT. The most common was requiring that the product must be in the original packaging or in the original condition, which can infringe on consumers’ rights to reasonably inspect the product.
Britons are the biggest online shoppers in the developed world, with Internet sales accounting for nearly a tenth of all shopping in the UK. Last December, Brits spent almost £8bn online on Christmas presents.
To support compliance with the regulations the OFT has created a web-based guidance tool for businesses, the Distance Selling Hub, which includes tips to resolve the key issues identified in the investigation.
An OFT spokesman 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.
“Developing trust in online markets is a priority for the OFT in light of market trends and evidence about the issues most affecting consumers and business.”

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