Over half of all online sellers of consumer electronics in the European Union are suspected of having broken consumer protection laws, the European Commission said Wednesday.
Their alleged offenses include concealing delivery charges, misleading consumers about products and failing to honour consumers’ rights to return unwanted purchases within the E.U.-wide minimum period of a week.
An investigation of 369 Web sites located in 28 countries — all 27 E.U. Members apart from Slovakia, plus Iceland and Norway — was conducted by the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, together with national consumer rights officials. They looked at sites selling gadgets such as mobile phones, digital cameras, MP3 players, DVD players and games consoles.
Germany, the E.U. member state with the largest population, reported the highest number of alleged offenders (21), followed by Spain (15), Sweden (13), Cyprus (12) and Belgium (11).
“This is a Europe-wide problem which needs a European solution. There is a lot of work to be done in the months ahead to clean up this sector. Europe’s consumers deserve better,” said Meglana Kuneva, the consumer rights commissioner, in a statement.
Consumer groups will contact the alleged offenders ordering them to conform with consumer protection laws. The Commission has warned that if the offenses persist it will intervene and close down the Web sites.
In the middle of next year the Commission will publish details of all enforcement action taken against the Web sites.
Online sales of electronic goods totaled just under €6.8 billion in 2007. About one in four E.U. consumers who ever bought anything online bought an electronic product.
The sector accounts for about a third of all consumer complaints resulting from online purchases. The investigation was sparked by complaints from consumers, Kuneva said.
“I know from my own mail bag, and we know from the level of complaints coming into European consumer centers, that these are a real problem area for consumers,” she said.
The commonest alleged offense uncovered in the probe, over 60 per cent of cases, was the failure of Web sites to respect consumers rights to return faulty goods and get a full refund.
Almost half of the Web sites failed to give clear details about delivery charges, and a third of them failed to provide adequate after-sale contact facilities, the Commission said.
The Commission refused to name the Web sites but some consumer groups including those in Iceland and Norway did. Iceland named ten, including Vodafone’s local website there, and online retailer.
Latvia named the eleven local Web sites that have been investigated but didn’t disclose which ones required action.