Consumer interest groups are calling for new legislation governing online shopping to allow consumers to buy over the Web in complete trust.
In a survey by Consumers International, the time and reliability of orders was found to be so poor that eight per cent of goods never arrived, while a further eight items took over a month to reach their destination.
In one example a merchant demanded that a UK consumer send a photocopy of the front and back of her credit card and previous bills before any order would be accepted.
Consumers International, a federation of 245 consumer associations in 110 countries, believes that the benefits of online shopping - such as convenience and choice - are far out weighed by the many obstacles caused by the poor service and lack of information about consumers' rights.
Even though different bodies are working on devising a set of guidelines to protect consumers, the work must be speeded up to produce some cyber rules of commerce, said a spokesperson for Consumers International.
Each organisation was set the task of finding one site in its own country and one based abroad to buy a selection of goods including a dictionary, a doll, jeans, a hairdryer, computer software and hardware, chocolate and champagne. This amounted to more than 150 items in 17 different countries.
To test the returns policy of each site all the items, except the chocolate and champagne were returned. Only 53 per cent of the companies had a policy on returning goods and less than a third provided information on how to complain.
At the time of the report being published, two customers were still waiting for their money back, more than four months after returning the goods.
The study found that for many cases consumers are kept in the dark about delivery status as only 65 per cent of site provided confirmation of the order and just 13 per cent notified customers when their goods had been despatched.
In many cases delivery charges were not clearly indicated, potentially resulting in consumers receiving a much higher bill than initially expected.
The majority of online retailers still seem reluctant to reveal how they will use the customers' personal information they gather, as only 13 per cent promised they would not resell the details to a third party.
The survey shows that online retailers have not learnt from previous mistakes, as a survey in January from research analysts Jupiter Communications found that consumers were becoming less satisfied with their online shopping experiences. see Newswire 19 January
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