Consumers in the Electronic Marketplace
A report on Consumers in the Electronic Marketplace was published in Dec 2005 by researchers at the Law Department of University College Cork. This report examines the effectiveness of legal protections when consumers buy online. Under Distance Selling Regulations 2001 suppliers are required to provide consumers with certain information about themselves and the goods/services supplied to enable consumers to make an informed decision whether to buy or not. However, this research indicates that there is a considerable variation in terms of compliance levels with these requirements about the goods/services.
• 100% compliance with regard to information about the goods/services
• 92% compliance in relation to information about the supplier.
• In contrast 50% of suppliers failed to provide adequate information regarding payment, delivery or performance.
• Over 30% of suppliers failed to provide adequate information regarding the consumer’s right to withdraw.
• Almost 25% of sites failed to comply with the requirement to provide information relating to price e.g. whether tax is included in the price or not.
The 2001 Regulations also allow consumers a minimum period of 7 days from the date of delivery of goods to return the goods to the supplier and to get a full refund. This right to return operates regardless of the consumer’s reason for returning the goods. However the research indicates that only 10% of consumers were aware of this 7 days return period, and only 40% of consumers were aware of their right to return goods without giving a reason.
The UCC report suggests that consumers have a misplaced confidence in their knowledge of their legal rights and their ability to protect themselves. In conclusion the report recommends that
• Government bodies and business representative organizations should do more to ensure higher levels of compliance with the Regulations among suppliers through the publication of guidelines on compliance and best practice. This will at the same time increase levels of compliance among suppliers which then enable consumers to play a more active role in protecting themselves.
Consumers in the Electronic Marketplace by Mary Donnelly and Fidelma White, researchers at the Law Department of University College Cork and funded by the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences.
The full report can be accessed at www.ucc.ie/law/faculty/staff/consumersdec05.pdf