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FTC: E-Comm Sites Need To Give Consumers More Information

Imagine handing out a business card to a prospective client...only it's missing your phone number and e-mail address. Some Internet consumers face a similiar scenario when making purchases on the Web, according to new results of the Federal Trade Commission's International Web Survey.

The FTC studied 200 Web sites in 18 countries that were selectedfrom a random sample of 2200 URLs; 100 of the sites are located in the United States. While the report noted that most companies generally gave helpful consumer information, many did not provide related information, including refund policies, warranty information and cancellation terms.

Missing info included no e-mail address, 10 percent; no telephone number given, 12 percent and no country of orgin provided -- 71 percent for U.S. sites.

RESULTS

% of Sites
Disclosing General Business Info

Total Domestic International
E-Mail Address 90% (179) 91% (91) 88% (88)
Phone Number 88% (176) 92% (92) 84% (84)
Street address or PO Box (1) 84% (167) 90% (90) 77% (77)
Merchant's Country Explicit (2) or Clear from Context (eg - country flag) 54% (108) 29% (29) 79% (79)
Geographic Restrictions on Sales 17% (34) 21% (21) 13% (13)

% of Sites
Disclosing Contract Info
(for 120 Sites that Allow Online Purchase)

 
Refund Policy 26% (31) 28% (16) 24% (15)
Total Costs 65% (78) 66% (38) 65% (40)
Cancellation Terms 9% (11) 7% (4) 11% (7)
Warranty 20% (24) 22% (13) 18% (11)
Applicable Law 10% (12) 7% (4) 13% (8)
Currency Applicable to the Sale 38% (46) 16% (9) 60% (37)
Delivery Terms (including time period)
(for 105 sites that deliver offline)
38% (40) 36% (20) 41% (20)
SOURCE: FTC

1. The merchant address did not necessarily include a country name.
2. Sites that disclosed a street address, but not a country name, were not included.

"Consumers need confidence now," said Commerce Secretary William Daley, in remarks made yesterday to an audience at the FTC's two-dayworkshop on U.S. Perspectives on Consumer Protection In The Global Electronic Marketplace.

"Consumers are making major purchases on the Web, often without knowing or having heard of the companies they are buying from," Daley said.

The workshop is being held in an effort to determine how consumer protection can be put in place within the international e-commerce marketplace. Issues examined include various types of online consumer protections needed, domestic and international law, authentication issues and how to implement such measures.

During the conference FTC Chairman Robert Pitofsky predicted that between now and 2003 the value of e-commerce is projected to surge from $70 billion to almost $1.4 trillion.

However, if consumer safeguards are not put in place, those rosy numbers may never be attained.

"We need to act fast to deal with two issues that are of growing concern: privacy and consumer protection," Daley said. "If we do not deal with them there is no doubt in my mind the Internet will never realize its potential with consumers."



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