14 January 2010
Nordic Consumer Ombudsmen have updated their guide concerning electronic commerce. One of the issues discussed is customer service: the better the customer service, the better protected the customers are.
Consumer authorities in all Nordic countries receive regular complaints concerning problems emerging from online trade. Among the most significant shortcomings of online shops is that their contact information is often unclear or entirely missing. Moreover, consumers do not always receive responses to the queries they send to the vendors.
Nordic Consumer Ombudsmen have highlighted issues relating to online commerce and marketing before, in a guide published in 2002. This guide has now been updated to meet the current situation.
The updated guide emphasises the importance of customer service. If customer service is lacking, consumer rights are on shaky ground. If consumers cannot contact the vendor effortlessly and without additional expenses, they will be unable to find solutions to problems with their orders.
In matters of dispute, the customer must be able to prove that he or she has already filed a complaint on the matter to the vendor. Many online shops provide a pre-prepared form to facilitate the process of contacting the vendor. Nordic Consumer Ombudsmen recommend that, if a company uses a contact form, customers should be able to save the form on their own computer or automatically receive a copy of it to their e-mail.
However, whether or not the vendor provides easy means of contact makes no difference if the messages are left unanswered. Therefore, the guide created by the Consumer Ombudsmen stresses that the vendor must process queries and complaints submitted by its customers within a reasonable time. The best way would be to give customers an estimate of the processing time and keep them updated during the process.
The importance of customer service is also emphasised by the act on the provision of services that came into effect on 29 December 2009. Under the act, companies must ensure that consumers can easily obtain the company's address, e-mail address and other contact information that consumers require to submit complaints or request information on the service.
The guide also presents a number of views on the implementation and positioning of online advertisement and on new forms of advertisement, such as adverts that are posted in blogs. The guide emphasises that consumers must be able to easily recognise attempts to influence their decisions by means of advertisement, online and otherwise.
- The joint Nordic guide supplements the individual policies and recommendations of each respective country. At the same time, it is a part of the international discussion on the future of online commerce that is on-going within the EU, OECD and ICPEN, the International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network, explains Director Anja Peltonen of the Consumer Agency.
Guide of the Nordic Consumer Ombudsmen (in Finnish)
Information for companies (in Finnish)