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The ECCN working group's report said that websites displaying 'trustmarks' had not always guaranteed the shoppers a quality service, and recommended that consumer confidence could be increased in online shopping if the trustmarks were "designed and formulated in a way that is understandable for all consumers shopping in the internal market".

The report said one of the mystery shoppers had encountered problems with theft of their credit card details, whilst others experienced technical problems when completing orders and seemingly completed transactions without ever being charged or receiving the goods ordered.

The shoppers also encountered language barriers because only 61 per cent of online traders tested displayed information in more than one language, the report said.

"Consumers should also know whether or not they are buying from a secure website and to what extent their personal data is protected," the report said.

"In 16 per cent of the purchases, the mystery shopper reported that it was not clear whether or not the site was secure and in 20 per cent the mystery shopper reported that there was no privacy policy available on the website. In order to increase consumer confidence in online shopping across borders, these figures need to improve," it said.

However, the group said that conditions in cross-border online shopping had generally improved on the basis of previous studies it had completed.

"The main problem regarding delivery of the ordered product seems to have been reduced remarkably," the report said.

"This was illustrated by the very high delivery rate of the shopping exercise. In almost all cases, the delivered product was in conformity with the order and there were almost no defects. This means that, in most cases, consumers can expect to have the ordered product delivered and it will be in good shape," it said.

The European Commission has set out a target for at least 20 per cent of the EU population to be cross-border shopping online by 2015.

The Commission said it will publish the results of a study into the "savings potential of e-commerce for consumers" before the end of the year. It said it also wants to propose new EU laws that would allow e-commerce disputes between traders and consumers in different countries to be resolved "entirely online as an alternative to going to court".

“It is important for consumers that, once they place an order, the delivery of the products bought online from another EU country is reliable and that, when things go wrong, consumers have easy access to effective redress across Europe," John Dalli, Health and Consumer Commissioner at the Commission, said in a statement.

"There are still barriers that limit consumers' choice and undermine confidence in the Single Market. I am determined to continue the work to abolish them," Dalli said.

Plans to harmonise consumer protection laws across the EU are expected to receive final approval and come into force from 2013. The plans are set out in the proposed Consumer Rights Directive, which has received the backing of the European Parliament, but the Directive also requires support from EU ministers before it can be introduced.

Among the proposed changes is a requirement for businesses to allow online shoppers a fortnight from receiving goods to claim a refund on their purchases. There is no right to return customer-specified or personalised products under the provisions of the proposed new laws.

Purchasers that receive deliveries of multiple orders or parts of goods at different times will have 14 days to claim a refund from the time of the last delivery, a draft of the new consumer laws approved by the Parliament said. ®

Copyright © 2011, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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