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Which? is reported had ditched the Which Web Trader Scheme (WWTS) set up in June 1999. The scheme established an accreditation scheme based on companies selling to consumers fulfilling a comprehensive set of criteria for online trading. Apparently, the costs of running the scheme were proving prohibitive.
WWTS and the Consumers’ Association (CA), which administered it have had their detractors. There was particular ridicule in 2001 when the CA failed to apply to have its own TaxCalc website included within the scheme. This came to light because the CA inadvertently exposed 2700 sets of credit card details. As a lawyer specialising in this area, I have often been asked by companies to deal with issues raised by the CA in relation to the company obtaining or retaining its WWTS accreditation. It is generally true to say that for a company to be accredited, it had to reduce the limitations and exclusions in its own Terms and Conditions and give consumers rights in excess of those that would otherwise have been on offer. Companies generally considered this reduced protection a worthwhile price to pay for the additional custom that they would derive from consumers whose reluctant approach to purchasing on line would be overcome once they saw the WWTS certificate on a website. If there is no replacement scheme, there could be a significant impact on the level of consumer online purchases in the UK. The question then arises as to which sort of body would be able and willing to take on the role. In order for the average consumer to derive sufficient confidence from a certification, the issuing body would have to be well known and respected. Entities which themselves have active online operations would probably not be seen as sufficiently neutral and would probably not wish to endorse goods or services offered by competitors. The most appropriate certifying authority would almost certainly have to come from the public sector and the most obvious candidate would have to be the Office of Fair Trading which is already heavily involved in the regulation of online trade.
© This article is copyright Simon Halberstam 2008 and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion in any specific facts or circumstances. the contents are intended for generic information purposes only. You are urged to contact a suitably qualified lawyer for specific advice.