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US e-tailer fines increase pressure for UK law

David Bicknell


US government fines imposed on seven online retailers last month for non-delivery has put pressure on the UK Government to ensure that UK consumers are similarly protected.

The fines, totalling $1.5m (£1m), were made under the Mail and Telephone Order Rule, a US law that requires retailers to ship goods within 30 days of receiving an order or provide a delay notice whereby the buyer can either choose to wait for delivery or cancel the order.

UK rules are due to be covered by national implementation of the EC Distance Selling Directive, which covers basic rights for consumers. But implementation of the directive has been delayed, and government officials were last week unable to say whether UK sites that fail to deliver on time, will face the same heavy fines as in the US.

A Department of Trade & Industry spokeswoman said the Government was taking its time to ensure that the legislation is right - it will also cover cross-border online buying. The original implementation date for the directive was 4 June 2000, but this has now been put back.

The US fines - against CDNow.com, BKids.com, Macys.com, Toysrus.com, Original Honey Baked Ham, Patriot Computer and Minidiscnow.com - related to the Christmas buying period last year.

According to the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection, the Mail and Telephone Order Rule applies equally to online and bricks-and-mortar retailers. The failure of many online retailers to comply and the flood of subsequent complaints left many companies "looking like Scrooge rather than Santa", it said.

Although no date has been set for UK legislation, the Government said it will allow a transition period for the new law.


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