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EC to tackle 'misleading' online gadget sellers

Over 200 'problem' websites slammed

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More than half of Europe's online gadget sellers failed to provide buyers with correct sales information or misled punters over pricing, an European Commission investigation has concluded.

EC investigators visited 369 European websites selling “six of the most popular electronic goods”: compact cameras, phones, MP3 players, DVD players, computer equipment and games consoles in May. The sites investigated included 200 of the biggest retailers and "more than 100 websites... targeted on the basis of consumer complaints".

Just over 200 of the sites investigated were found to be misleading consumers on some way, the EC said. Of these, 66 per cent gave incorrect details about customers' consumer rights, such as their right to return goods bought online or by mail within a minimum of seven days without giving a reason. Some sites presented statutory rights as special offers.

Forty-five per cent of the "problem" sites misled buyers about a gadget’s total price, the EC alleged, by - for example - promising free postage but then charging for delivery.

A third of the sites that troubled investigators failed to provide complete company contact details, the EC said.

Of all 369 sites examined, 14 were based in the UK. Six of them were marked for further investigation, which will be carried out by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). They will be asked to clarify their position or correct the alleged errors highlighted by the investigation.

“Failure to bring a website in line with the law can result in legal action leading to fines or websites being closed”, the EU warned.

None of the 14 UK sites were named in the report, but Iceland and Norway, who both joined the EU probe, have since named local online retailers investigated by the EC.

For example, Vodafone’s Icelandic website and Pixmania.com’s site in Norway were both revealed to have been flagged for further investigation.

Enforcement results will be published next year. ®

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