Aussie Consumer Sites Found Wanting

Jessica Aldred

Updated · Mar 15, 2001

A sweep of Internet sites by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has found only three in ten e-tailers allow for the return, exchange and refund of goods.

Even fewer sites disclosed their privacy policies.

The sweep of 229 Australian sites was part of a wider, international 48-hour sweep by 48 agencies from 19 countries. More than 3,000 sites were examined for disclosure of physical addresses, email or telephone contact, itemised costs and specification of currency quoted, restrictions on purchases (such a age or geographic limits), refund and warranty policies and the privacy policy.

“Australian businesses scored well on disclosure of their physical addresses, email contacts, with nearly nine out of ten giving this information, and slightly fewer for a telephone contact,” said the ACCC Chairman, Professor Allan Fels.

“However, only three out of ten ‘allowed’ for returns, exchanges and refunds. Fewer disclosed their privacy policy,” he said. “This must be rectified.”

Prof Fels said Australian e-tailers must remember that consumer protection laws applied to them, just as much as to main-street stores and mail-order companies.

“Cyber-stores do not work in a laissez-faire environment. They cannot take consumers rights away,” he said. “Consumers will shy away from using sites they do not trust or believe are eroding their rights. It is in a cyber-store’s interest to be seen to be consumer-friendly, open and easy to use.”

The ACCC said it had found three sites of particular concern: one which tried to repudiate statutory rights, another site claiming a cure for all advanced cancers and a further site inferring an affiliation or endorsement by the ACCC. All sites are being, or have been, altered.

On a global scale, the ACCC said Australian e-tailers compared well with their overseas competition in the areas of address, e-mail and telephone contacts but lagged behind on itemisation of costs, statements of applicable currency, restrictions on purchases and privacy and refund policies.

The ACCC is considering holding a further sweep later this year, and said it will probably concentrate on ‘miracle’ cures and health claims. “A past sweep has shown that such dubious claims have proliferated on the Internet,” Mr Fels said. “Where Australian-based, the ACCC has been taking action, including court action. It will continue to watch this area closely”.

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