The European Consumer Centre’s Network.
Link to The Competition and Consumer Authority. www.forbrug.dk.

Front page | | Contents | | Bottom | | <<Previous | | Next >> |

7. Website problems prior to purchase

7.1. Difficulties in searching for relevant web traders

As previously mentioned, the purpose of this project was to test the current state of cross-border e-commerce within the internal market. As described in section 3.3. (“Selection of websites”), the working group and project participants experienced some problems when trying to collect the necessary number of qualified websites.

A total of 675 websites were submitted to the working group, which was pretty close to the foreseen total of 680 (40 websites from 17 countries each). The members of the working group distributed a list of 20 websites from this pool of 675 to each participant. It was decided that more purchases should be made from the countries with the highest number of web traders. The principle that consumers are more likely to shop across borders with their neighbours due to shorter distance and fewer language barriers was taken into account.

The Mystery Shoppers (17 participants) were instructed to carry out 20 purchases each. Unfortunately their task faced some difficulties as only 40% of the submitted websites met the criteria set out by the working group. This caused problems for the Mystery Shoppers as many websites had to be substituted during the shopping exercise itself. It also caused extra work for the working group as new websites had to be searched for once the spare ones from the pool had been distributed in order to maintain the number of purchases.

Fig. 32 Traders that did not match the criteria
Fig. 32 Traders that did not match the criteria


Fig. 33 shows the number of traders that did not match the criteria as reported by the Mystery Shoppers. The largest number of traders that did not match the criteria, and therefore had to be substituted, were reported by the Hungarian Mystery Shopper (16 traders), the Slovakian and Danish Mystery Shoppers (15 traders each), Norwegian Mystery Shopper (13 traders), Austrian and Portuguese Mystery Shoppers (11 traders each).

Fig. 33 Number of traders that Mystery Shoppers had to substitute
Fig. 33 Number of traders that Mystery Shoppers had to substitute


The nature of problems fall within six separate categories:

  1. Language
  2. No credit card payment option
  3. Other owner of website
  4. No cross-border sales
  5. No delivery to Mystery Shopper’s country
  6. Other
Fig. 34 Problem areas of websites that did not match the criteria
Fig. 34 Problem areas of websites that did not match the criteria


As can be seen in Fig. 34 above, the three key categories are language (28%), no delivery to Mystery Shopper’s country (22%) and no credit card payment option (19%). Together, these categories gave rise to 69% of the total number of problems reported.

Problems with language was the largest category of problems reported, accounting for 28%. Within the category of language problems, in the vast majority of cases the Mystery Shopper could not understand any of the languages in the website (no English available) or the very first page of the website was in English, but the next pages appeared in the trader’s language (partly in English).

Problems with no delivery to the Mystery Shopper’s country formed the second-largest category, accounting for 22% of all problems reported. Within this category, the vast majority of cases concerned shipment restrictions, i.e. there was no delivery to the Mystery Shopper’s country.

Problems with no credit card payment options formed the third category, accounting for 19% of all problems reported. Some Mystery Shoppers experienced at a later stage that they could not use their credit card if they wanted to make a purchase.

Problems with websites that did not match the criteria of providing cross-border sales (traders only sold domestically) accounted for 9%. Problems with websites that did not match the criteria that the owner of website had to be European accounted for 5 %. Within the category of other problems (17%), the vast majority of cases concerned many technical irregularities, e.g. errors during the process of making the purchase, pages of websites that did not load etc.

The breakdown of the categories of problems reported to each ECC is given in Fig. 35 below.

Fig. 35 Problem areas of websites that did not match the criteria (reported by Mystery Shopper to the each ECC)
Fig. 35 Problem areas of websites that did not match the criteria (reported by Mystery Shopper to the each ECC)

7.2. Difficulties in making purchases

It was decided that 340 purchases should be made within this project (17 Mystery Shoppers were to make 20 purchases each); however, in the end only 305 purchases were made. This section explains why 35 purchases could not be counted in.

7.2.1. No delivery, no money withdrawal

There were purchases where an order had been placed but no product had been delivered and no money was withdrawn. For example, a Belgian Mystery Shopper received an email from an Italian trader three months after the order had been made stating that there were some problems with the authorisation of the credit card. The trader did not deliver the goods as a result of the problem with the payment. For the purposes of this project, the members of the working group decided that this type of case should not be counted as a purchase.

Another example of this problem was a Mystery Shopper who placed an order on a Hungarian website and paid for the product using a credit card. After three days, the trader contacted the Mystery Shopper by email to say that the product was not in stock in the desired colour. The trader offered other colours but, at the same time, informed the Mystery Shopper that their online payment service was currently out of order. The trader therefore asked the Mystery Shopper to pay by “collect on delivery” or “bank transfer”. At this stage the Mystery Shopper cancelled the order.

7.2.2. Theft

Cross-border shoppers cannot avoid possible threats while making purchases online. At the beginning, ECC Poland had also signed up for the project. However, after one purchase had been made, the credit card data of the Polish Mystery Shopper was stolen. Several procedures were run by the Polish bank, police and Banking Ombudsman to deal with the problem. This example shows that shoppers are still at risk when buying online, that is why they must be made aware of the possible threats. The Mystery Shopper was not able to use an alternative credit card for the remaining 19 purchases, and as a result ECC Poland was unable to participate in the project.

7.2.3. Payment made with other means than a credit card

For the purpose of selecting the traders before making the purchases, the working group drafted a guide including instructions on a minimum set of criteria. ECCs were instructed that the web traders had to accept debit or credit cards as a method of payment[90]. However, some Mystery Shoppers used bank transfers or cheques as they were the only methods available in the websites. The members of the working group decided not to count these types of cases as purchases in the questionnaires, because the Mystery Shoppers did not follow the minimum set of criteria.

7.2.4. Non-European origin of website

The project covers cross-border online shopping in the Member States plus Norway and Iceland. However, an Estonian Mystery Shopper reported that a purchase had been made from a non-European trader (American). The Mystery Shopper reported that on the first sight, the website looked like it was British, but later he found in the information in the terms and conditions that the trader was American. The purchase had been made, and the product was also eventually delivered to the Mystery Shopper; however the trader refused to accept the return of the product from the Mystery Shopper. For the purposes of this project, the working group decided not to count these types of purchases.

7.2.5. Technical problems

Cross-border shoppers cannot avoid possible technical errors while making purchases online. For example, some Mystery Shoppers had to cancel orders because technical errors arose at the time of finalising the purchase – the Mystery Shoppers could not make the payment. In some cases, due to technical errors the web traders cancelled the orders and subsequently informed the Mystery Shoppers.

One example of this problem was experienced by a Mystery Shopper who tried to purchase from a Norwegian trader. Upon submitting the delivery address, the Mystery Shopper was presented with a failure notice on the screen stating that information was missing (even though all fields had been filled in).

In another case, the Mystery Shopper was in the final stage of the order process. When the order was submitted, the page loaded for a while. As the page finished loading, the Mystery Shopper could see that it was still the last stage of the process that was displayed on the screen. The Mystery Shopper tried to submit the order again two more times with no result. Just to be sure, the Mystery Shopper contacted the trader via email to inform them of the problems experienced and to find out whether an order had been placed. The trader never replied.


[90]  Note: Online third party payment methods, such as ClickBank or PayPal, were considered to be credit card payments for the purposes of this project.

Top |

This page forms part of the publication "ONLINE CROSS-BORDER MYSTERY SHOPPING – STATE OF THE e-UNION" as chapter 6 of 8.
– STATE OF THE e-UNION" as the preface.
– STATE OF THE e-UNION" as appendix -2.
Version no. 1.0, 2011-08-31
© The Competition and Consumer Authority