The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) chairman Rod Sims has vowed to keep a more vigilant eye on online retailers this year, stating online businesses are not above the law and offline companies need to play fair.
Addressing the Law Society of NSW, Sims admitted that the ACCC is unable to provide comprehensive coverage of all competition issues at all times and this year it would be focusing on several key areas.
Sims said that the ACCC's enforcement policies would be revised and released publicly in the next few weeks, but outlined several areas that the ACCC had already committed to focusing on at this stage. While these included such issues as raising customer education, identifying vulnerable customers, and eliminating misleading and deceptive conduct, one new area of focus would be on the examination of the online economy.
Sims said the ACCC would examine online businesses with greater scrutiny to ensure they were operating within consumer law.
"I still sometimes find businesses that think consumer law does not apply if you are trading online," he said.
The ACCC has previously taken online business Domain Names Australia to court over the deceptive practice of attempting to fool users that they needed to re-register their domains with them.
However, Sims made it clear that the ACCC's scrutiny would also apply to offline vendors and it would seek to curb uncompetitive or deceptive behaviour from these organisations in response to online businesses.
"Some 'bricks and mortar' businesses seem to think anything goes when it comes to preventing competition from new online players," he said.
Online businesses continue to be a significant part of the economy, with Australians expected to spend over $37 billion online by 2013, and businesses previously viewed as opposed to online store-fronts such as Harvey Norman beginning to change their views.