Dozens of the UK's largest online stores have been warned to bring their websites up to scratch so they comply with consumer protection laws, or face action.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has written to 62 major firms over fears they are misleading consumers with hidden prices and incorrect information on cancellation rights.

This followed a sweep of 156 companies, which included the top 100 retail sales sites.

The watchdog doesn't name the firms, although it suggests many are clothes stores.

The OFT found:

  • A quarter of sites hid compulsory delivery or card payment fees until the end of the buying process, instead of displaying them upfront.
  • A third of sites that provided information on cancellation rights imposed unreasonable restrictions, such as requiring a product is in its original packaging.
  • 60% provided a web contact form rather than an email address, as required by e-commerce regulations. The OFT says emails are better as consumers can keep an audit trail.

The OFT stresses the sweep found the majority of sites were compliant with distance selling regulations, which give additional rights when buying online.

The OFT's Cavendish Elithorn says: "The OFT recognises most businesses want to play fair.

"We encourage all online retailers to check their websites so customers can be confident their rights are being respected when they shop online."

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