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Consumer watchdog to prioritise online reviews

The Commerce Commission NZ has reviewed local and overseas websites to help them better understand the issues surrounding online commerce.

Speaking at the Commission’s competition and regulation conference, Competition Matters 2019, in Auckland, chair Anna Rawlings said they have reviewed 73 websites for pressure selling tactics and, separate to that 174 more, and issued advice to 41 businesses resulting in many changes to their websites.

“We have been active here and overseas in engagement to help us better understand issues arising in online commerce,” Rawlings said. “Earlier this year we held an online retail forum with representatives from Google, Trade Me, Shopify, Netsafe, the Privacy Commission and many others.”

She said online reviews are a source of continued interest to them. 

The consumer watchdog said it is putting emphasis in understanding and identifying current and potential harm in the areas of environmental claims, online retail and motor vehicle insurance.

The commission has recently released its priority focus areas for the upcoming year, including enduring priorities, focus areas, connecting and legislative change.

“In the areas of environmental claims, online retail and motor vehicle insurance, we will look to understand the issues, identify current and potential harm, educate traders, empower consumers and take enforcement action where needed,” Rawlings said.

“Importantly, the identification of these focus areas will not stop us from undertaking advocacy, investigations or enforcement action in other areas affecting consumers where we consider that our involvement can be of benefit.” 

Each year the Commission targets its resources on specific areas which are important to everyday life and the economy.

This year there are eight focus areas, environmental claims, online retail, motor vehicle financing and related add-ons, educating traders about conduct that may contravene cartel laws, consulting on and completing the fuel market study, resetting the five-year revenue limits and quality standards for electricity networks, monitoring and reporting on telecommunications retail service quality, and new up-front regulatory rules for fibre broadband services.

According to Rawlings, enduring priorities are the areas the Commission will always regard as a priority due to their potential to have a significant impact on consumers, business or markets in New Zealand or because they are a core part of our statutory role.

These include credit issues, product safety, merger clearances and functions in critical infrastructure industries like energy and telecommunications.

Rawlings said another priority for the Commission is connecting.

“Connecting with others is an important part of increasing our understanding and effectiveness as a regulator and as one small part of a wider New Zealand and global regulatory system,” she said.

“We plan to better connect with consumers to understand the issues they face and improve the targeting of our work for their benefit. We also plan to improve our engagement with businesses and as part of this we will be updating our Enforcement Response Guidelines and extending these to cover regulated industries.”

Rawlings said changes are currently underway or proposed to almost all of the laws that the Commission enforces.

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