The European Consumer Centre Network (ECC-Net) has also warned that online fraud is on the increase with a growing number of reports about illegal activities such as “phishing” and problems with internet auctions.
In its annual report for 2005 on the European Online Marketplace, the ECC-Net — which is funded by the European Commission — reported a 74% overall increase in the number of complaints from consumers.
In Ireland, almost four times as many complaints about e-commerce-related purchases were received by the ECC office in Dublin last year compared to 2004.
Ireland emerged as one of the EU countries which registered the most complaints about online shopping with over 185 cases documented last year.
There was also a total of 45 complaints made against web traders based in the Republic of Ireland out of a total of over 1,800 received within the EU. One-third of all complaints were made against the operators of websites based in Germany.
ECC Dublin manager Tina Leonard said the increase in the number of complaints from Irish consumers was explained by the increased practice of online shopping as well as greater publicity about consumer entitlement when shopping online.
“Recent statistics show that the number of Irish consumers shopping online has gone from 76,000 in 2003 to 318,000 in 2005. It is proof that the online marketplace is growing but if some web traders continue to provide poor customer service and fraudsters are not monitored closely, shopping online will lose its appeal,” said Ms Leonard.
She said the majority of complaints and disputes were against web traders based in Britain, France and Germany. The most common complaints related to problems with faulty or defective goods and non-delivery of items.
However, Ms Leonard said there was also a significant increase in the number of reports from consumers about fraud last year, including “phishing” — where criminals fraudulently pose as genuine businesses in order to obtain sensitive information such as PIN numbers from customers.
She claimed most of these cases related to consumer-to-consumer transactions that were concluded between private individuals who had met via internet auction websites and concluded their business offline.