Smart Consumer: Don't get caught in a web of deceit -shop safely online
Shopping online is a no-brainer -- 24-hour access to a worldwide marketplace, a minimum standard of consumer rights across Europe, a choice of products, and all this from the comfort of your sofa.
But as with any transaction, things can go wrong. The measure of a good business is how they handle problems, but again and again some fail to rise to that challenge.
Think of the person who bought a digital recorder from a German web trader and paid €123.41, only later to be told his order was cancelled as the item was no longer available.
Imagine his surprise when he noticed that they were still advertising the same product but at the price of €454.57!
The trader could not give a satisfactory explanation so he sought help from the European Consumer Centre (ECC) who managed to get the trader to deliver the recorder at the original price.
Accounts of such tactics and more are included in a report on complaints in the online marketplace, just published by the ECC Network.
The report analyses 18,420 complaints relating to online purchases.
The majority (40%) related to delivery with 88% of those complaints relating to non-delivery. You would imagine that the delivery of a product forms the basic element of online trade, but there you go.
Next up in terms of volume of complaints were problems with the product or service itself, in other words a defective product was received but the web trader didn't provide an adequate remedy.
Related to this, a common complaint was that the trader would not reimburse the cost of posting a defective product back to them, which they should.
This happened to one Irish consumer who bought a television online from a French trader that turned out to be faulty. She sent the TV back by insured and recorded delivery but the trader refused to pay the costs. Again, intervention by the ECC ensured that this consumer was fully reimbursed in the end.
Other key problems found were: incorrect price display; unclear information about the trader; hidden costs; currency exchange problems and fraud.
Given that only 8% of EU consumers buy from a website in another country, and that the European online marketplace lags behind other markets, the situation has to improve.
Yes, it is frustrating if a web trader refuses to sell to Ireland or charges us a higher price if they do. But where they do, at the very least they have to comply with the law.
At the same time, if we know what to look out for when something goes wrong, we can help ensure that errant web traders won't get away with dodgy practices.
Useful website www.eccireland.ie