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European online sales during the holiday season are set to reach €13bn, according to Forrester Research released. This is €3bn more than the US, at €10bn ($13bn).

Sales in the UK, totalling €4.3bn, make up 36 per cent of the total. Germany will account for 29 per cent of the total, at €3.8bn. France will take a nine per cent share, at €1.1bn.

European ecommerce during the Xmas period will increase by 44 per cent compared to 2003, according to Forrester. It attributes this growth to more affluent online shoppers, an ecommerce push by traditional retailers and the aggressive promotion of online stores.

Many European retailers' offline revenues have declined as a result of customers purchasing online in greater numbers, while in the UK competition has increased, with companies such as Sainsbury's and Tesco battling it out for Christmas sales.

Leisure travel will form the largest portion of the market, at 21 per cent, closely followed by apparel sales, at 17 per cent.

However, this increase in online purchasing carries a risk of fraud and a danger of faulty products being sold, particularly when it comes to healthcare products. To combat this, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has published a set of guidelines to help consumers shop safely for healthcare products online.

The OFT advises that when shopping online you should:

  • Consider claims or testimonials made on the site about the benefits of a product carefully - if something sounds too good to be true often it is untrue.
  • Read the returns and complaints policy carefully and check it doesn't seek to reduce or remove your right to cancel and get your money back.
  • Make sure you have the company's address - without it, you will find it more difficult to get your money back if things go wrong.
  • Be wary of sites that seek to limit their legal responsibilities if things go wrong. Seek advice if you are unsure of your rights.

Also listed are details of some of the rights granted to consumers by the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000:

  • A cooling-off period during which an order can be cancelled.
  • The right to claim a refund within the cooling-off period without deductions being made by the supplier for their initial handling charges.
  • Confirmation of details such as the supplier's address for complaints (a PO Box number isn't enough).
  • ®

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