50% of electronics sites break EU law

MORE than half of all the major websites selling electronic goods across Europe are breaking EU consumer law, including over a third of Irish sites, a European Commission survey has found.

The biggest problem was sellers giving misleading information about the buyers’ rights, followed by misleading or missing information about the exact price of the product and no contact details for the trader. The commission, which coordinated the survey, yesterday warned the websites selling electronic goods they face fines or closure unless they clean up the misleading consumer information.

The survey of 369 websites selling six of the most popular electronic goods – PC related goods, MP3/4 players, digital cameras, game consoles, DVD players and mobile phones revealed that 203 were breaching EU consumer law. The online electrical market is worth about €7.2 billion a year.

The National Consumer Agency (NCA) carried out the Irish part of the investigation and found just one problem with six of the 15 Irish sites surveyed – a lack of an email address. John Shine, director of consumer practices at the NCA, said there were online forms to contact the seller and the lack of an email address was more a technical breach. However, they have pointed out this flaw to them and hope it will be rectified.

The NCA, outside the EU study, surveyed an additional 13 sites, mostly Irish, but some overseas. “There are more serious issues coming out of the mystery shopping. We are in the process of engaging the companies and if they do not comply we will take enforcement action, and name and shame them,” said Mr Shine.

All but three of the 28national authorities taking part in the EU survey have declined to name those accused of breaching the rules. A commission spokesperson said the idea behind this was to give the firms an incentive to change. Only Norway, Iceland and Latvia have named the websites.

Consumer commissioner Meglena Kuneva said the amount of complaints from the public led to the investigation. “We discovered that more than half of the retailers selling online electronic goods are letting consumers down... There is a lot of work to be done... to clean up this sector. Europe’s consumers deserve better.”

Solicitor Caoimhe Daly, with BCM Hanby Wallace, who advises people setting up retail websites, said the biggest problem online is confusion over rights and regulations.

“A personal shopper is not entitled to a refund when they return an item unless it is not of merchantable quality, but online shoppers can send back their purchase and are entitled to a refund for whatever reason,” she said.

A spokesperson for IEDR, responsible for registering Irish domain names, said they check on those registering and they believe this is why .ie sites were named the safest in Europe after Finland in 2007.


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