Shopping via mobile phone causes concerns for consumers

In a new international snapshot report, Consumer Focus and ten other consumer organisations are warning that greater consumer protection, better business practices and technical developments are needed if shopping via mobile phone is to be made fit for consumers’ needs.

Mobile commerce, using a mobile phone to buy goods and services, has the potential to allow consumers to shop anytime and anywhere. This could benefit busy consumers and businesses alike, by providing greater flexibility for customers and a wider retail market. However, the new research, from across 11 countries, highlights major concerns about the experiences of mobile shoppers which need to be addressed.

At present a very limited range of goods and services is available to buy via mobile phone. When it comes to digital content, comprising mostly of premium rate services, such as ringtones, screen savers and games, researchers found that choice was further restricted by a lack of interoperability between software and handsets.

The report reveals these services have inadequate safeguards and information for consumers. In the study many premium rate purchases resulted in unwanted subscriptions through inaccurate or misleading descriptions. Nearly half of vendors did not provide full cost details. Researchers also found that nearly all purchases had no age restrictions.

In the research business practices as well as technical restrictions of mobile handsets, such as a small screen and low memory capacity, contributed to problems. In many cases information about costs, terms and conditions, customer services and subscriptions was either not provided or was unclear.

Marzena Kisielowska-Lipman, digital expert at Consumer Focus, said: “Mobile commerce has the potential to transform how we shop, but this research shows huge problems that need to be addressed to make mobile shopping fit for consumers’ needs. It is particularly shocking that so many premium rate purchases leave customers facing unexpected costs or paying for unwanted goods and services. Improved safeguards, information and technologies are needed to protect consumers and make mobile shopping easier.”

Consumer Focus and other concerned consumer organisations are calling for stronger consumer protection for mobile phone users as part of a review into e-commerce guidelines by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).