More than half the European websites that sell electronic consumer goods are not complying with the law, the European Commission has found.
Police and trading standard authorities are now following up the findings with website owners. Six of the 14 UK websites studied will receive a visit from the authorities.
The market for online retail sales of consumer electronic goods in Europe was about €6.8bn in 2007 and a lot more now. About one in four EU consumers who ever bought anything online bought an electronic product, including cameras, the EC said.
The study covered 369 websites in 26 member states plus Norway and Iceland that sold the six most popular electronic goods in the EU - digital cameras, mobile phones, personal music players, DVD players, computer equipment and game consoles.
Researchers looked into misleading advertising and unfair practices. They found 55% of the websites investigated showed irregularities relating in particular to:
- Misleading information about consumer rights
- Misleading information about the total cost of the product
- Incomplete contact details for the trader.
Some 13% of the bad sites will require cross-border cooperation between the authorities.
Two-thirds of the bad sites had misleading information about consumer rights. Some 45% has misleading information about the total price, and a third had missing or incomplete contact details of the trader.
Iceland, Latvia and Norway have published names of the websites covered by the investigation.
EU consumer commissioner Meglena Kuneva said the commission was responding to consumer complaints. "I know from my own mail bag that these are a real problem area for consumers," she said.
The investigation started in May to check compliance with three EU consumer laws: the Distance Selling Directive, the E-Commerce Directive, and the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive.
The EU-wide enforcement results will be presented by mid-2010. The EU has also published samples of good and bad websites selling electronic goods.
The sweep investigation focused on three areas:
- Contact information for the trader: Under EU law, there must be complete information about the name, geographical address and email address of the trader.
- Clear information about the offer (total price and clear product description): Under EU law online traders must provide clear information about the characteristics of the product, as well as the total cost (including taxes), all extra delivery costs and payment arrangements. The final price to pay must be the same as stated in the information provided before the purchase.
- Clear information about consumer rights: Under EU law, consumers must be given information about their "right to return", ie, a good bought at a distance can be returned without giving a reason within a minimum of seven days.
The investigation also checked the accuracy of additional information provided about consumer rights such as warrantees and refunds.