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

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.
Corinne Pritchard

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