The European Union is likely to introduce tighter regulation over the coming months to prevent misleading advertising and other unfair practices by e-commerce providers selling consumer electronics.
Following a raft of complaints to European Consumer Centres, the EU requested that national authorities in 26 member states investigate a total of 369 web sites in May this year.
The sites all sold the six most popular electronic devices available in the region: digital cameras, mobile phones, personal music and DVD players, computer equipment and games consoles.
"We discovered that more than half of the retailers selling online electronic goods are letting consumers down," said EU consumer commissioner Meglena Kuneva.
"This is a Europe-wide problem which needs a European solution. There is a lot of work to be done in the months ahead to clean up this sector. Europe's consumers deserve better."
Some 55 per cent of the sites investigated showed irregularities in trading practices, and will be issued with enforcement notices requiring them either to clarify their position or make changes. Failure to do so will result in legal action leading to fines or closure.
About 66 per cent of the problem sites either failed to inform, or misled, customers about 'right to return' policies which allow them to return purchased products within seven days without needing to provide a reason.
Other consumers were told that faulty products would be repaired or replaced only within one year of purchase when, in reality, the deadline is two years.
Another 45 per cent of the sites gave misleading information relating to pricing by failing to clarify extra delivery charges, for example, or making such data difficult to find or adding details only at the final payment stage. Others promised free delivery or all-inclusive deals, but applied delivery charges anyway.
A further 33 per cent, meanwhile, failed to provide, or offered incomplete, contact details, making it difficult or impossible to contact them should problems occur.
Such malpractice is considered serious in light of the fact that the value of consumer electronic devices sold online in Europe reached a huge €6.8bn (£6bn) in 2007, and that more than a third of e-commerce-related complaints handled by the European Consumer Centre network concerned the purchase of such equipment.
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