E-Commerce fails the test: International Sweep Day results show most sites don't provide basic consumer information

13 October 1999

Results from the International Internet Sweep Day held on 23 September have shown that most e-commerce sites are failing to provide even basic consumer information.

The Internet Sweep Day involved consumer protection agencies from around the world examining almost 700 e-commerce sites (including 250 Australian sites) and examining them against ten key consumer protection principles. Sites were assessed on the basis of what information that was easily accessible before entering into a transaction.

"If consumers are to have confidence when shopping online they must have clear and accurate information about the business they are dealing with, the terms and conditions involved, procedures for redress if something goes wrong and how the trader will deal with their personal information," Australian Competition and Consumer Commission Acting Chairman, Mr Allan Asher, said today.

"Regrettably most sites are not providing this basic information. In fact 62 per cent of sites did not provide any information regarding refund or exchange policies and 75 per cent had no privacy policy or statement of how they would handle consumers' personal details. The average score out of ten for all sites was 4.8.

"The bad news is that Australian sites scored even lower with an average score of 4.4. [Details of the Sweep Day results are attached.]

"E-commerce has a huge potential for businesses to reduce costs and reach a wider market but they must lift their game. This is not rocket science. All of the information sought in the Sweep day can, and should, be easily provided".

A recent in depth study of 151 e-commerce sites by Consumers International revealed similar deficiencies in many e-commerce sites. The study took place over a number of months and involved the actual purchase and return of items. In some cases the goods never arrived and in two cases, customers were still waiting for their money back more than five months after returning their goods. (The ACCC website contains a link to the Consumers International study.)

A recent expert seminar on e-commerce identified the need for consumer redress mechanisms and international standards as two of the main factors needed to promote consumer confidence. The seminar was part of the 'Online Australia' agenda series; an initiative of the National Office of the Information Economy.

"E-commerce provides incredible potential and promise for business and consumers, however it's crucial that people don't forget some of the basics when stampeding towards cyberspace. The cost to business of providing this basic information is virtually negligible, the benefit of doing so is enormous".

The Sweep Day results will also be tabled at a global conference on e-commerce that is currently taking place at OECD headquarters in Paris. The need for measures to increase consumer confidence has already emerged as a central theme at the conference.

"The ACCC is also working with like-minded agencies to develop international protocols to protect consumers and promote business on the Internet," Mr Asher said. "Such guidelines are being developed and the sweep day results should provide further impetus for their acceptance".

Release number: 
MR 197/99
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