eComWorld June 2001

From the reluctance of some consumers to buy goods over the Web, it's clear something is frightening them away. New evidence suggests it could be that local sites are failing to comply adequately with consumer protection laws.

A sweep in March of e-commerce Web sites by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, as part of a larger project to assess sites in countries around the world, found that Australian sites fell down in a couple of key areas. Only 33 per cent provided a policy on returns, exchanges and refunds, compared with a global average of 67.2 per cent; 30 per cent allowed returns, exchanges and refunds, compared with 40.5 per cent globally; and just 28 per cent had a privacy policy of some kind, well below the 42.2 per cent international average.

On the brighter side, Australian sites did fare well compared with overseas competitors when it came to disclosing e-mail, telephone, and address details, but lagged behind on itemisation of costs, statements of applicable currency, restrictions on purchases, and privacy and refund policies.

"Australian e-tailers must remember that the consumer protection laws apply to them, just as much as they do to main-street stores and mail-order companies," said ACCC chairman Professor Allan Fels. "Consumers will shy away from using sites they do not trust or believe are eroding their rights."

Clearly, consumer protection laws apply to e-commerce, as do those covering copyright, trademarks and privacy. The challenge, however, is making sure your site does not contravene these laws. Many laws were written long before the birth of e-commerce and have been patched by amendments to make them work in the era of e-business.

For businesses looking to sell products to consumers overseas, new difficulties arise: do you have to comply with the laws in all the countries and regions in which you wish to do business? What about countries like the US, where different states have different consumer protection regimes?

It sounds like a nightmare to SMEs (and a lot of billable hours to lawyers), but there are things you can do to keep on the right side of the law. eComWorld turns its attention to this important topic this month, with an overview of some of the laws e-commerce encompasses and ways to make sure you don't break them - and that your customers return to a site noted for its fair dealings.

And to ensure we can measure the progression towards our goal of 2001 Web sites online by 2001, we invite you to register your business's Web site with us. We'll be providing an online directory - categorised by industry, business and site type - for our readers, consumers and other businesses alike.

To register your site, follow the links at http://ecomworld.com.au We hope you enjoy the June edition of eComWorld, out now. If you have any suggestions, comments, or ideas for case studies, please don't hesitate to e-mail me at deanne_macintosh@idg.com.au.

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