OFT cracks down on online electronics stores

As part of a Europe-wide sweep, the consumer watchdog is investigating four UK online stores over possible misleading advertising and unfair practices
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

The Office of Fair Trading is investigating four British electronics retail websites over possible misleading advertising and unfair practices, as part of a wider European Commission effort to protect buyers.

In addition, two website operators outside the UK have been censured, the consumer watchdog said on Thursday. It added that its investigation had begun by looking at 14 online electronics stores and resulted in the six identified as potentially unfair to consumers.

"We had concerns over misleading price indications, contact details, or that the geographical or email address of the trader was not present on the website," said an OFT spokesperson. "We also had concerns about whether [order] cancellation details were provided."

The sites under scrutiny are the most-used online electronic retailers that had the most customer complaints, according to the spokesperson, who declined to name the UK sites involved for legal reasons.

"All sites selling online have to comply with distance selling, economics and consumer protection regulations," said the spokesperson. "Both the OFT and Trading Standards have powers to enforce those regulations."

The wider European crackdown, which is being co-ordinated by the European Commission, started in March. On Wednesday, the Commission released details of the operation so far. Out of 369 websites that have been checked, 55 percent had irregularities, the regulators said. The majority of the websites checked sold PC-related equipment.

"We discovered that more than half of the retailers selling online electronic goods are letting consumers down," EU consumer commissioner Meglena Kuneva said in a statement. "There is a lot of work to be done in the months ahead to clean up this sector, Europe's consumers deserve better."

National consumer watchdogs are now entering the second phase of the European operation, in which they determine whether to take further action against problem sites.

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