Service check concerns

Most electronic commerce web sites fail the customer service test, according to results from the Australian Comp-etition and Consumer Commission’s International Sweep Day held last month.

The findings showed most e-commerce sites fail to provide even basic consumer information.

Information regarding refund or exchange policies were not provided in 62 per cent of sites, with 75 per cent offering no privacy policy or statement on how customer’s personal details were handled.

ACCC chairman Allan Fels said privacy was of great importance to e-commerce consumers.

“A recent survey by a US consulting group showed privacy was greatly valued by 42 per cent of consumers and such concerns led 27 per cent to give false information in web-based questionnaires,” Professor Fels said.

Just 10 per cent of sites examined in the sweep day disclosed a statement of applicable law for the transaction.

Information regarding details on how to lodge a complaint appeared on only 22 per cent of the sites.

The sweep day involved consumer protection agencies from around the world examining almost 700 e-commerce sites, including 250 from Australia.

Examined against ten key consumer protection principles, sites were assessed on the basis of information made easily accessible prior to entering into a transaction.

The average score out of ten for all sites was 4.8, with Australian sites scoring even lower at 4.4.

Similar deficiencies in many e-commerce sites were revealed by a recent study of 151 e-commerce sites by Consumers International.

The in-depth study involved the actual purchase and return of items and, in some cases, the goods never arrived.

In two cases customer were still waiting for their money back more than five months after returning their purchase.

ACCC acting chairman Allan Asher said e-commerce had to “lift its game”.

“This is not rocket science – all of the information sought in the sweep day can, and should, be easily provided,” Mr Asher said.

“It’s crucial people don’t forget the basics when stampeding into cyberspace. The cost to business of providing this basic information is negligible, the benefit of doing so is enormous.”

The sweep day results will be tabled at a global e-commerce conference at the Office for Economic and Cooperation and Development headquarters in Paris.

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