Trading Standards orders dot-com shake-up

UK dot-coms told poor security and customer service are damaging Britain's reputation

The Institute of Trading Standards has warned UK Internet businesses to clean up their customer service reputation and online security record or see Britain's Internet industry fall behind competitors from abroad.

The warning follows research which indicates that a quarter of all e-commerce Internet sites in the UK lack basic security measures protecting customer transactions and which shows that more than a third of orders placed at UK Web sites go astray. Although many dot-coms will be feeling the pinch with faltering market enthusiasm for technology stocks in general, the Institute of Trading Standards says that unless customer service improves, the situation will only get worse.

Richard Webb, the Trading Standards Institute's spokesman on e-commerce, told business representatives at the National Consumer Week seminar last week that the situation is damaging Britain's reputation and the nation's aspirations to become an e-commerce centre. He said the situation at some e-commerce sites threatens to undermine the reputation of all of UK Internet ventures.

"There is a problem with customer mistrust of commerce on the Web, caused by late or non-delivery of goods or services and security when giving details of credit cards," he said. "Effective customer service is a vital part of fair and successful e-commerce."

Webb said that many UK Internet users are worried about the security and legitimacy of local Internet sites. "The Government agenda is immediate access to the web for all by the year 2005 -- but we have to get over this barrier of suspicion."

Research from the Institute of Trading Standards last week indicates an alarming lack of security at many UK e-commerce sites. Trading Standards investigators looked at 70 UK-based Internet stores and found that 25 percent did not even protect customer's credit card transactions with encryption, allowing card numbers to pass in plain text over the Internet. The same study found that many Web sites do not supply working a telephone contact number or address, leaving customers in the lurch in an emergency.

The Trading Standard's warning is backed up by the Consumer Association and further discredits Britain's Internet entrepreneurs. A number of security problems have also affected UK Internet firms in recent months.

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