Buying online will become easier if draft guidelines drawn up by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) are adopted.
The guidelines have been designed for e-tailers, mail order firms and companies which sell over the phone to bring them into line with regulations on Distance Selling (DSR) and the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations.
Of particular concern are unclear guarantee/warranty terms and misleading terms and conditions.
The OFT also wants companies to clearly state returns policies and whether their telephone helplines are premium rate.
Many firms try to charge what they call a restocking fee for returned items that are not faulty, which is now illegal under the DSR.
Another breach of the DSR is failing to have clear business addresses and contact numbers on company websites.
The OFT has also told companies to ask only that the consumer has read and agreed to the conditions of sale, rather than "understood the term and conditions".
The proposals to simplify terms and conditions has been welcomed.
"[Terms and conditions] must be intelligible to the average consumer and not couched in legalese," cautioned Paula Barrett, leading IT solicitor with law firm Eversheds.
"It must be clear to consumers how they can return goods and, although restocking fees are illegal, if the company expects the consumer to pay return postage for unwanted goods this must be clearly set out."
So far e-tailers have reacted positively to the guidelines. They can provide feedback in a consultation period running until the end of January.
"We hope this will result in more clarity on certain issues to ensure we're able to comply with them," Jonathan Wall, marketing director at dabs.com, told vnunet.com.
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