Over half of all websites which sell electronic goods within the EU are breaking consumer law, according to an investigation carried out on behalf of the European Commission. The breaches include a widespread failure to comply with rules on clear and unambiguous pricing, failure to include physical addresses on websites and, crucially, the omission of details regarding returns.
While many canny Irish people take to the web when buying electronic goods in order to avoid the sometimes inexplicably high prices on our high streets, another often overlooked advantage of online shopping is that it gives people more rights than they have when they shop in old school stores thanks to EU distance selling rules.
When you buy online, you have the right to return the goods within seven days without giving any reason and the retailer is obliged to issue you with a full cash refund and not try and pawn you off with credit notes or vouchers. If a product you buy online is faulty you are entitled to a repair, replacement or refund and the seller is obliged to cover postage costs.
This fairly simple message does not seem to have got through to the majority of retailers who sell electronic goods via the web. The Commission-backed survey of 370 companies by enforcement agencies across the EU – including our very own NCA – found that 55 per cent showed irregularities.
The online electronic goods market is worth nearly €7bn in the EU annually but a third of all complaints about the online retailing sector now centres around the digital market. Apparently six potential problem sites in Ireland have been identified but the NCA has thus far declined to say who they are.