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Survey finds poor information and a lack of customer care

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An international study into online shopping has revealed that consumers are getting a raw deal from e-commerce. The study by Consumers International -- a group of 245 consumer watchdogs -- calls for new laws to be introduced to protect unwary e-shoppers. Funded by the European Union, the study appears to confirm that consumers are just as likely to be ripped off as they are from buying things from shops, markets, or from an odd-looking chap in the pub selling video recorders on the cheap. According to the 11-country survey -- which involved buying things, including a dictionary, a doll, jeans, a hairdryer, computer software and hardware, chocolates and champagne -- some items never arrived at all. Others, it seem, were damaged. "This study shows that, although buying items over the Internet can benefit the consumer by offering convenience and choice, there are still many obstacles that need to be overcome before consumers can shop in cyberspace with complete trust," said Louise Sylvan, vice-president of Consumers International. "This shows the very real need for some cyber rules of commerce." The key findings of Consumers@shopping: An international comparative study of electronic commerce were: * Eight of the items ordered took over a month to reach their destination and at least 11 (eight per cent) never arrived. * Many sites didn't give clear information about delivery charges -- and when buying from abroad, this could make a big difference to the total cost. * A minority of sites disclosed whether the laws of the seller's country or the buyer's country would apply in the event of a dispute. * Only about 13 per cent of sites promised that they would not sell customers' personal information on to a third party. * Only 53 per cent of the companies had a policy on returning goods; and only 32 per cent of sites provided information about how to complain if something went wrong. * In some cases, the name of the retailer or Web address would change halfway through a transaction, leaving consumers in the dark about whom they were dealing with. * Only 65 per cent of the sites provided confirmation of the order and only 13 per cent told customers when their goods had been despatched. * In two cases, customers are still waiting for their money back more than four months after returning their goods. ®

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