Protecting shoppers online

The Office of Fair Trading is consult­ing on how to protect shop­pers online — so we all spend more, of course! But while they’re there this could be a great oppor­tun­ity for every­one from shop­pers to secur­ity experts to have their say. This summar­ises the main issues.

Doing well so far

Now, we’re already pretty good at buying things online. Lots of people do it, we trust most of the people who are selling us things, and we spend a lot of money.

  • Could there be more compet­i­tion though,to help things get even cheaper? Is there anything more we can do crack down on scams? Are UK online busi­nesses good enough at respond­ing to change?
  • The OFT says if we trust who we buy from, we can get the best deals — we gain the confid­ence to shop around (making busi­nesses more compet­it­ive), and we’re more likely to try new things (giving busi­nesses a reason to make new products and improve old ones).
  • They think we need to find ways for online busi­nesses to be more consist­ent, that we all need to work together to protect ourselves, increase trust in buying online and remem­ber that we’re not just deal­ing with the UK, online shop­ping is global.
  • They say we’re in a good posi­tion: number 1 in Europe for busi­nesses selling online, and Ireland second. Second only to Luxembourg for the number of people work­ing in these busi­nesses, third to Norway and Denmark for number of people buying online, and most trust­ing of inter­net business.

But funnily enough, not every­one trusts the inter­net. Nearly 20% of people with an net connec­tion don’t shop online, and a third of those aren’t shop­ping because they’re scared of getting scammed.

Even when people shop online regu­larly they’re more worried about being ripped off then, than when they shop on the high street.
The OFT thinks this all adds up to people perhaps spend­ing less online than they could, small busi­nessesfind­ing it too diffi­cult to get online – elbowed out by estab­lished brands – and it might mean people demand tougher rules when they’re not really needed. Are they right?
They also say that despite this worry, know­ledge and under­stand­ing of how to stay safe online has actu­ally gone down. Less people look for the little padlock symbol, and only a quarter knew what cook­ies were, though another 28% claimed they knew some­thing about them.
You can teach an old dog new tricks

The good news is that people are pretty savvy when it comes to market­ing and prices. Attitudes towards online ads are very mixed:

But people are adapt­ing well to the new ways of pricing things they keep coming up with, like when they give you a price upfront then tack on extras afterwards.

Big big savings

Not to mention that the inter­net could save us all a lot of money, espe­cially people who don’t earn very much in the first place. But people who don’t earn very much­don’t have as much access to the inter­net either, and even when they do they don’t pay for as much online.

Know your rights
For example, would it reas­sure you to know you should get a refund if some­thing isn’t delivered by the time they said it would or 30 days after the order? Or that you can send back a lot of things 7 days after receiv­ing them? Do you know your rights are differ­ent depend­ing whether you’re on Ebay or Amazon? The OFT does­n’t think enough people know these things.

So they want to help with:
  • A website where people can complain about online traders and get advice on their rights and inter­net pitfalls. Make it easier to get your money back – perhaps by help­ing people band together to take on companies.
  • A good old-fashioned aware­ness campaign, backed up by the busi­nesses we’re help­ing protect.
  • Get people to use review sites so they get a better idea of what they’re buying and trade info about good and bad compan­ies with other shoppers.
  • They want to find out what payment protec­tion is out there already, and how they can make it stronger.
Is this enough? What else should they do? From what they say in the consulta­tion, aware­ness campaigns seem like a tempor­ary solu­tion — everything moves so fast that what’s right now will be out of date in a year — and then what?
Dealing with scams

The OFT thinks that our tradi­tional model of deal­ing with fraud­sters, scam­mers and complaints isn’t enough. We’re not deal­ing with dodgy locals anymore, and even when we are they might be doing busi­ness some­where else.
The combined efforts of the Police, Trading stand­ards and the OFT are supposed to be improv­ing things, but we’re not really there yet.
The OFT think these things will help:
  • Simple guides for busi­nesses so they under­stand the rules better, in easy to find places
  • Making sure busi­nesses who deal with shop­pers selling to other shop­pers explain the rules clearly too.
  • Getting the people who already record who the spam­mers and fraud­sters are to share what they know
  • Finding groups abroad that know about poli­cing the net, and seeing if some­thing similar would work in the UK
  • Get every­one together and work out a better way to tackle spam.
  • Use web tech­no­logy to find websites and compan­ies that aren’t play­ing by the rules
  • Making the enforce­ment we’ve got better, find­ing the gaps and filling them
  • Get a list of enforce­ment agen­cies in other coun­tries so we know who to talk to – then share information.
Dealing With change

savingsIt’s only about 15 years since the inter­net became really popu­lar, and in that time things have moved incred­ibly fast. Technology and busi­ness models are chan­ging all the time, so fast that our laws can’t always keep up. The OFT thinks we need some soph­ist­ic­ated ways of work­ing out what’s going to happen next. They want to:

  • Make sure that when things change, the rules are right behind them (or even ahead).
  • Put systems in place to work out where things are going, what the trends are, so they can under­stand and deal with new ideas better and faster.

That’s about it. You can have a closer look at the consulta­tion if you want to know more detail, send your ideas straight in, or get talk­ing on twit­ter, face­book or even this blog — everything helps. Make sure you’ve got everything down by 13 October 2010 though!

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Corinne Pritchard

Information Designer at Simply Understand
I believe design and design­ers can and should make the world a better place. I love design­ing things that help people under­stand complex ideas.

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