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Dell, Dixons and WHSmith have been slammed for shabby customer service on the Net.

In a survey of the top 25 online shopping sites in the UK, consultancy Plaut found that just 15 per cent of e-tailers had a level of customers service equivalent to that expected on the high street.

And cyber heavyweights like Dell came out the worst - it landed in the 'very poor' category, unable to cancel an order either offline or online. Meanwhile, dippy Dixons delivered an order after acknowledging that it had already been cancelled.

Toys R Us and Racing Green were also at the bottom of the heap - the former was slammed for its returns policy, which involves customers having to go to one of its high street outlets. Racing Green took 21 days to provide a refund after an order was cancelled, despite stating no charge would be made.

The WHSmith site was buggy and hadn't been tested on all browser types. It also failed to provide a full refund.

More than 70 per cent of sites had "serious problems" handling returns and cancelling orders.

Supermarkets fared little better - Sainsbury's site crashed during the sale, but still charged the customer, while it was impossible to cancel an order with Tesco online.

The top sites were Appliance Direct, Bigsave.com, Country Bookshop, high street favourite Marks & Spencer, and Virgin Wines. The study was based on a single purchase made during September.

"There is a real danger that poor online customer care will lead to a miserable Christmas for consumers and ultimately for retailers as well," warned Karl Thurston, PLAUT UK MD. ®

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