Safe online shopping requires vigilance – also around Christmas time

More and more Finns do their Christmas shopping online. Online shopping requires vigilance, as many online stores sell counterfeit goods or, in some cases, unsafe products. The Finnish supervisory authorities wish to remind consumers that, when it comes to online shopping, knowledge is power.

The time leading up to Christmas is the busiest season in the retail market. In December 2014, Finns spent a total of approximately EUR 4.6 billion on consumer goods, which was 20% more than the average spend during other months of the year. It seems likely that the figure will be similar this year. Sales volumes for jewellery, watches, books, consumer electronics, and toys tend to almost double in December, compared to the average sales figures of other months.

According to a recent study by the Finnish Commerce Federation, at least one in three consumers do their Christmas shopping online. Consumers are also increasingly likely to buy products from international online stores. Foreign marketplaces are especially popular among men under the age of 40.

The biggest attractions of online shopping are its effortlessness, the endless choice of products, and the cheaper prices available online. The Finnish supervisory authorities have launched a public information campaign with the tagline There is no sheriff in this town to educate consumers about how to shop online without running into problems.

Disputes with global vendors can be difficult, if not impossible, to resolve. The Finnish supervisory authorities can only intervene in cases that involve products purchased from Finnish online stores, or marketing and contractual terms that are written in Finnish.

Scams and unsafe products

Recognising a trustworthy online store can be difficult for consumers. So as to help prevent problems, the Finnish supervisory authorities have compiled a list of practical tips for online shoppers at (in Finnish).

Ignorance can lead to many kinds of unpleasant surprises online. Cancelling orders and contracts can be difficult, pre-paid products may not arrive, or the goods delivered can be faulty.

Monetary losses are not the greatest danger, however: Some online stores sell products that have been recalled as unsafe in another country. Other online stores sell counterfeit goods and try to pass them off as the genuine article. If a product does not meet safety standards and the store operates beyond the reach of the authorities, it is the consumer who bears all responsibility in the event of an accident.

The organisations involved in the Finnish supervisory authorities’ campaign are the Finnish Food Safety Authority, the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority, the Finnish Transport Safety Agency, the Finnish Medicines Agency, the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, Finnish Customs, and the Finnish Safety and Chemicals Agency. The campaign is sponsored by the Finnish Commerce Federation.

The campaign was launched a year ago, and its aim is to promote safe online shopping. Videos published as part of the campaign have been viewed more than 125 000 times this year.

Five tips for online shoppers

  1. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
  2. Study the appearance of online stores and the language used on their websites. If anything seems out of place, think twice before proceeding to place an order.
  3. Read through the delivery terms, and look up the store’s contact details. If you cannot find them, you may run into problems further down the line.
  4. Find out about the vendor’s trustworthiness, for example, by googling “[vendor’s name] + problems”.
  5. Keep a copy of your order, and always make any complaints in writing.