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Unfamiliar with an online store? Check reviews before you buy

Many consumers make online purchases without checking the trustworthiness of online stores first, whereas purchases from unfamiliar online stores in particular may carry risks. This warning is issued by the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM), the Dutch Consumers’ Association (in Dutch: Consumentenbond), the European Consumer Centre (ECC), the Fraud Help Desk (in Dutch: Fraudehelpdesk), and the national hotline for online scams (LMIO) of the Dutch police. All of these organizations are collectively calling on consumers to verify unfamiliar online stores in advance. Today, they launched an awareness campaign with the following message: unfamiliar with an online store? Check their reviews before you buy.

All of these organizations receive many reports filed by consumers that have purchased something online and then ran into problems. An ACM study revealed that, last year, 50% of consumers ran into problems with an online purchase. For example, purchases were delivered later than promised, something was wrong with the items, consumers received a different product than what they had ordered, or they did not receive anything at all.

Edwin van Houten, Director of ACM’s Consumer Department, adds: “Problems with online purchases is one of the top three categories of reports with all of these organizations. If consumers check online stores in advance, many of the problems that they encounter can be prevented. That is why we have joined forces to remind consumers to check reviews before buying anything, especially when dealing with unfamiliar online stores. That can save everyone a lot of problems later.”

Unfamiliar with an online store? Check reviews before you buy

That same study also revealed that over 59 percent of consumers last year purchased something from an online store that was unfamiliar to them, so an online store from which they had never purchased anything before or a store they had never heard of. Consumers do consider purchasing something from an unfamiliar online store riskier than purchasing something from a familiar one, yet they hardly behave any differently. When shopping at familiar online stores, 43 percent of consumers check reviews before they buy anything. When shopping at unfamiliar online stores, that percentage is barely any higher: 55 percent. And this percentage should be much higher, according to the organizations.

What can you do yourself?

The most important and easiest thing to do is checking reviews in advance. Enter the word ‘reviews’ and the URL of the online store in Google, and read the experiences of others on multiple review sites. Or check reports on the website of the Dutch police (in Dutch). With quick checks such as these, you will almost always be able to filter out the scammers or online stores that do not play by the rules.

Joining forces

Each of the organizations involved has different duties. So each of them approaches the core message of the campaign from their own angle.

  • ACM is an independent regulator that is committed to ensuring that markets work well for people and businesses. ACM takes action if online stores do not comply with consumer protection rules (for example regarding misleading practices), and educates consumers through its consumer information portal ACM ConsuWijzer. In the campaign, ACM primarily targets 18 to 30-year olds using social media, online ads, radio commercials, and digital billboards at stations and in shopping streets.
  • The Dutch Consumers’ Association (in Dutch: Consumentenbond) collects reports, tests sellers, campaigns against untrustworthy companies, and issues warnings if consumers need to stay away from certain online stores. Over the next few months, the Consumers’ Association will pay extra attention to the topic of shopping safely, through social media, newsletters, on its website, and in its magazine Consumentengids.
  • The European Consumer Centre (ECC) is part of the Legal Services Counter (in Dutch: Juridisch Loket). The ECC offers free legal advice about European consumer rights, and offers consumers legal assistance if they have a problem with a store (online or otherwise) in another EU country, Norway, Iceland or the UK. In the campaign, the ECC focuses on 18 to 30-year olds using social media and online ads.
  • The Fraud Help Desk (in Dutch: Fraudehelpdesk) is the national desk for filing reports about fraud and for receiving first-line advice about fraud (or fraud-related questions). On the basis of such reports, the Fraud Help Desk warns others on its website, in traditional media or on social media with alerts and campaigns. In this campaign, supported by the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security, the Fraud Help Desk targets everyone over 30 using posts on social media.
  • One of the police’s duties is tracking down online stores where consumers feel they have been duped. Following analyses and investigations, the police can take down online stores, and shares information with financial organizations, in order to prevent other consumers from becoming victims of misleading practices, and launches investigations into the suspects.

See also

22-11-2022 Study by Motivaction into online purchase behavior of consumers (in Dutch)