Jodie Bernstein, Director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection, announced that from the FTC's perspective, the 2000 online holiday shopping season seems to have gone more smoothly for consumers than the 1999 online holiday season. Bernstein made the announcement at today's Etail Details Internet Marketing seminar, presented jointly by the Electronic Retailing Association and FTC staff. She said that staff's review of complaints at the FTC, Better Business Bureaus, and online "gripe" sites suggests that online sellers were better able to meet their holiday shipment commitments.
"Consumers reported fewer problems with online goods being delivered late than in the 1999 online shopping season," said Bernstein. "No investigations tied solely to the 2000 holiday season appear warranted. In contrast, at this time last year the FTC had already begun investigating more than a dozen online companies." Bernstein said that online sellers toned down shipment claims and strengthened back-office functions such as supplier relations and inventory systems, enabling them to ship on a timely manner during peak demand periods.
During the 1999 holiday season, many Internet sellers were unable to meet their "very quick shipment" claims, resulting in disappointed customers. The Commission brought civil penalty actions against well-known e-tailers for allegedly violating the FTC's Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule. Through "Project TooLate.com" the FTC alleged that these companies made shipment claims for which they had no reasonable basis and failed to timely or properly notify consumers of late shipments. The companies paid more than $1.5 million in total penalties.
To prevent potential problems the FTC suggests that when ordering online -- whatever the time of year -- consumers should take the following precautions:
- Know who you're dealing with. If you've never heard of the seller, check its location and reputation with the Better Business Bureau or the state attorney general's office in your state.
- Protect your privacy. Provide personal data only if you know who's collecting it, why and how it's going to be used.
- If possible, use a credit card to pay for your online purchases. Credit cards offer the most consumer protections.
- Check shipping and handling fees. Those add to the cost of your order, so choose the delivery option that best meets your needs.
- Track your purchases. Keep printouts of the Web pages detailing your online transactions, including return policies, in case you're not satisfied.
The FTC's Office of Consumer and Business Education has two Consumer Alerts regarding holiday shopping. Holiday Shopping: Is a Sale Price Your Best Deal? offers practical advice about how to get the most for your money. Holiday Shopping? Free Tips from the FTC offers basic shopping tips and advice for shopping by phone, mail and online. Each of these Alerts and additional information about safe shopping is available free from the Commission's Consumer Response Center 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) and online at www.ftc.gov/ftc/consumer.htm. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and avoid them. To file a complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357), or use the online complaint form. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies worldwide.
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