Companies ‘break laws of online shopping’

##...but no more than mail order companies...

The Telegraph reports that the OFT (Office of Fair Trading) says most online businesses don't know the law as it relates to consumers (for example, did you know that in the UK, consumers have an unconditional legal right to return anything they buy at a distance and can't see before buying for any reason? Or that you are legally obliged to provide an email address for customers to contact you easily?

Most of the laws are the kind of thing that the market would steer good retailers towards providing - solid terms and conditions, great returns policies, easily contactable - but not all businesses want to offer the best possible experience to their customers.

I liked the angle the journalist, Richard Tyler, took with the OFT spokesman, but I would have liked to see him take them to task a little more about the fact that there isn't really a lot of news content in this story beyond the fact that some Government department has done a study. He first got an admission that the growth in complaints about this issue were:

> rising in line with the growth of internet shopping and were similar in proportion to the mail order sector

In other words, nothing to see here, move along. Businesses break rules and the Internet doesn't cause more businesses to see what they can get away with.

This was followed with a direct quote from the OFT director Robin Finer:

> "We have found that businesses are not complying with the law. What we haven't found in this study is that there's significant consumer detriment"

In other words, not only did they not find any real change in the number of businesses breaking the law, but they also found that it was no big deal, as far as consumers were concerned. So why the PR? (The article was reported prominently in the 'enterprise' (i.e. small business) section of the Telegraph). It couldn't just be a Government department trying to justify its existence could it?

##The law, SEO and reputation management

No, I'm not going to go into the legalities of various SEO and reputation management tactics, but rather, as hinted above, the kinds of laws that the OFT is talking about in this study are the kind of thing that genuine companies should be upholding anyway. Not out of fear of prosecution but because it will be good for their reputation and SEO.

You can differentiate yourself from your competitors through great customer care and this can make a huge difference to the way you are talked about online. If you treat your customers badly, you'll end up with search engine results for your name that look like this: with a page full of results telling people not to buy from your company. Their approach to customer care appears to have resulted in them taking down the website.

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About the author
Will Critchlow

Will Critchlow

Will founded Distilled with Duncan in 2005. Since then, he has consulted with some of the world’s largest organisations and most famous websites, spoken at most major industry events and regularly appeared in local and national press. For the...   read more