E-Commerce Flunks International Test

An international study using consumer organizations in 11 nations found that e-commerce still has hurdles to clear before it gains acceptance around the world.

The study, “Consumers@shopping: An International Comparative of Electronic Commerce,” was coordinated by Consumers International, a federation of 245 consumer organizations in 110 countries, and funded by the European Union. For the study, consumer organizations in 11 nations (Australia, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Japan, Norway, Spain, Sweden, the UK, and the US) purchased more than 150 items from 17 different countries.

Each organization was given a shopping list of items to purchase online, including a dictionary, a doll, jeans, a hairdryer, computer software and hardware, chocolates and champagne. The items, with the exception of the chocolate an champagne, were then returned.

Each site in the survey was judged on specific criteria including clarity of price and product information, information about delivery and associated costs, and information regarding returns, complaints, and site security.

When all was said and done, eight of the items took more than one month to reach their destination, and at least 11 (8 percent) never arrived.

Most of the sites in the survey didn’t give clear information about delivery charges, including international shipping. Less than half of the sites told sellers whether the laws of the seller’s country or buyer’s country would apply in the event of a dispute.

Other findings include:

  • 13 percent of the sites promised not to sell customer information to a third party
  • 53 percent had a policy on returning goods
  • 32 percent provided information on registering a complaint
  • 65 percent provided confirmation of an order
  • 13 percent notified customers when the product was shipped.

“This study shows that, although buying items over the Internet can benefit the consumer by offering convenience and choice, there are still many obstacles that need to be overcome before consumers can shop in cyberspace with complete trust,” said Louise Sylvan, VP of Consumers International. “This shows the very real need for some cyber rules of commerce.”

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