Business

Online traders failing on refunds, tests show

Online shopping
Image caption The test purchases were part of an EU-wide campaign to check consumer rights

More than half of traders failed to give full refunds to customers who pulled out of online purchases during a cooling-off period, tests have shown.

Under consumer rights law, all costs - including delivery costs - should be refunded if consumers decide to cancel the contract in the allotted time.

Test purchasing by European authorities found that in 57% of cases, traders failed to reimburse delivery costs.

A BBC investigation highlighted the issue in December.

Online shopping

When buying from the internet, unlike in a shop, customers are unable to examine the goods before they buy them.

As a result, a cooling-off period is available to people shopping online. In the UK, shoppers have seven working days to return items bought on the internet that they do not want to keep. In some European countries it is longer.

There are a few exceptions, such as unwrapped CDs and perishable goods, but otherwise the money should be credited to the buyer's account as soon as possible and within 30 days at the latest.

Any refund should include delivery costs incurred by the customer.

During a mystery shopping exercise by European authorities in 2003, these delivery costs were not reimbursed in 53% of cases.

But 305 tests earlier this year, by the European Consumer Centres' Network, found that this had increased to 57%, although refunds for the items themselves were paid in 90% of cases.

"This needs to improve in order to ensure a continuous positive development in cross-border e-commerce," a spokesman for the UK European Consumer Centre said.

In 7% of all the purchases made, the trader did not inform the customer about the price of the delivery costs at all.

Changes

Some results of the test purchases do make better reading for consumers.

For example, the delivery rate for items ordered online improved significantly compared with 2003, as had the number of items delivered within 14 days. There was also an increase in the number of websites offering information in more than one language.

Many of the current consumer rules operating in EU countries pre-date the widespread use of the internet by shoppers.

So MEPs have approved plans to update the rules, including a 14-calendar-day cooling-off period for online purchases.

Governments will have two years to implement the changes.

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