Consumers' Association (CA) in the UK has launched a code of practice for online merchants to allow customers to shop on the Web with confidence.
Called Which? Web Trader, the scheme aims to encourage the highest possible standards from retailers while ensuring that consumers are treated as fairly as when shopping on the high street.
Under the scheme, CA will refund any individual who loses money through an online transaction with a registered Web Trader and will provide free legal advice.
Sheila McKechnie, director of CA, said: "Consumers' Association research shows that to boost this new way of shopping, consumer confidence must be improved dramatically. The Which? Web Trade scheme has been launched to give online shoppers the same level of confidence as enjoyed on the high street."
Merchants wishing to join the scheme must abide by a strict code of practice that includes: providing full contact details on their Web site; clear pricing of all goods and services to avoid consumers getting stung with unexpected tax, delivery or packaging charges; and full refunds of faulty goods within 30 days.
This is in addition to them meeting all current consumer protection legislation and complying with the Data Protection Act.
The merchant must carry a privacy statement declaring whether consumer details will be sold to a third party and they must give consumers the option to refuse marketing material.
The code is vague however on the issue of security, simply asking that the merchant's site be "secure" for sending personal information.
To be considered for membership and carry the Web Trader seal of approval, merchants must supply their details and contact information to the CA, which will check them out to guarantee their authenticity.
Random checks from mystery shoppers will be carried out on member merchants to ensure they continue to comply with the code of practice.
The Consumers' Association is negotiating with other consumer organisations to extend the scheme outside the UK so that customers buying from foreign merchants have easy access to legal advice and support.
Merchants already signed up to the scheme include: Carphone Warehouse; Evesham Micros; Value Direct; Easyjet; and Go.
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