Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

Which? Web Trader scheme to close due to costs

Out-Law News | 08 Jan 2003 | 12:00 am | 1 min. read

The Which? Web Trader scheme, a voluntary code of practice for on-line traders launched by the UK Consumers' Association (CA) three-and-a-half years ago to promote consumer confidence in on-line shopping, is to close at the end of this month because it is too expensive to run.

The scheme was designed to encourage UK on-line traders to improve their practices and adopt the highest possible standards for their e-commerce sites, and to ensure that consumers were treated fairly when shopping on the web.

To participate in the scheme, traders had to adopt an 18-point code of practice. Once they obtained the Web Trader seal of approval, businesses were subject to random checks such as "mystery shopping," to ensure compliance with the code.

Also, the scheme offered refunds and free legal support to consumers that had problems shopping on-line on one of the approved sites.

Since its launch in July 1999, the scheme has received over 8,000 applications from on-line traders, of which 2,700 were accepted. It has also, according to the CA, resolved more than 2,000 disputes on behalf of consumers.

On Monday, however, the CA announced its decision to close the scheme. Paul Kitchen, head of on-line at CA said in a statement:

"Providing such an effective and well-monitored code costs a significant amount of money each year - W?WT has always been free to traders to protect the independence of Which? - and as a charity and campaigning organisation we need to use our resources in the most efficient way possible.

"There is still a need to increase consumers' confidence about shopping online and we think it is now up to business and government to set up an alternative scheme to build on the successful work of W?WT."

According to the CA, the scheme will close on 31st January 2003, when its logos will be withdrawn from the traders' sites.

The end of the scheme comes at a time when on-line shopping in the UK is growing three times faster than in the US, with UK-based consumers spending more than £1 billion on e-commerce sites in November 2002.