The Office of Fair Trading is to begin a study of online shopping practices to see whether customers are getting a raw deal.
The study will concentrate on four representative 'case study' sectors: domestic electrical goods; music sales (including downloads); airline ticket sales (including accommodation bought at the same time); and online auctions.
These sectors have been chosen because they represent at least a third of all online spending and are good examples of the internet as a growing and developing marketplace.
"The internet is fast becoming a hugely important channel for consumers and businesses," said OFT chief executive John Fingleton.
"Its rapid evolution means we need to ensure that the consumer protection regime gives current and future users the confidence to realise the internet's potential for shopping.
"This study is core to the OFT's mission to make markets work well for consumers."
Throughout the course of the study the OFT will consult widely with businesses, trade bodies, consumer groups and public sector organisations.
The watchdog will also research consumer and business perceptions and needs, and consider international experience in this area. The findings are expected to be published in spring 2007.
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