Press releases

Howard the online assistant is here to help UK consumers

The UK European Consumer Centre is officially launching 'Howard' the online, interactive shopping assistant - a free tool to help consumers make informed and safer choices when shopping online, this Monday (17 December).

A scheme initially set up in Denmark and Ireland, by simply entering the website's address and country, Howard will return with a number of details.

Firstly it will reveal when the website was registered. Experience shows that consumers should be very wary when prices seem too good to be true and payment is required in advance by an unsecured method such as bank transfer or cash payment.

Howard will also display results of an archive.org search. The archive.org service continuously archives web pages. If this service shows the website as having similar content over an extended period of time, this may suggest that the site is reliable.

Results of a Google search will also be something Howard will do. This will enable consumers to see the results of a Google web search. If consumers have problems with a specific shop they will often complain about them online. If the first few pages of a Google search show a substantial number of complaints the consumer should bear this in mind.

In addition, Howard will point out the general cancellation period in the country in question. For purchases within the EU you are guaranteed a minimum seven-day cancellation period for goods bought over a distance (i.e. over the internet and not in-store).

Examples of price comparisons site in the country in question, will also be given. Price comparison sites can be useful when looking for the cheapest goods online, some of them may also give customers the opportunity to evaluate the trader's performance for the benefit of other customers.

Howard can provide you with the details for your nearest European Consumer Centre who can offer advice in the resolution of cross-border complaints.

Currently only one in four European consumers are taking advantage of shopping overseas and Howard is here to empower the consumers into making informed, safe and confident purchases from elsewhere in the European Union where they may benefit from lower prices and better deals.

Although Howard cannot guarantee whether you will get the best price or the validity and reputation of the site, he will look into various details of the website and it will be up to the consumer to decide whether to shop there.

To access Howard the shopping assistant simply log onto http://www.ukecc.net/ and click on the picture of Howard, followed by the 'start Howard' button.

Notes to Editors

UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC)

The UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC) was officially launched as part of the Trading Standards Institute, during National Consumer Week 14th November to help resolve complaints about traders and businesses based on the Continent, particularly linked to online shopping, Internet auctions, flights and holidays.

The service is one of 27 across Europe coordinated by the European Commission to help resolve so-called 'cross-border disputes', while also helping raise awareness about consumer rights and the potential risks involved in buying from abroad.

The UK European Consumer Centre (UK ECC) is co-funded by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and the European Commission.

The address is European Consumer Centre, Trading Standards Institute, 1 Sylvan Court, Sylvan Way, Basildon, Essex, SS15 6TH

UK ECC is contactable by email : ecc@tsi.org.uk, Phone 08456 04 05 03, Fax 08456 08 96 00 or through an online form on their website UK ECC  which includes information on consumer's rights.

Trading Standards Institute

The Trading Standards Institute has represented the interests of Trading Standards professionals for 120 years. We have a long and proud history of ensuring that the views of our members are well represented at the highest level of government, both nationally and internationally.

Our aim is to promote excellence and enhance the professionalism of our members in support of empowering and informing consumers, encouraging and working with honest businesses, targeting rogue traders and rogue trading practices and contributing to the health, welfare and wellbeing of citizens and communities.

TSI members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities in response to 2 million consumer and business complaints and enquiries each year. They also support the delivery of new initiatives such as Consumer Direct, providing first point of contact practical consumer advice.

They also work in the business, consumer and central government sectors in promoting and influencing the safety, prosperity and enhancement of individuals and markets with a dependency on effective and professional trading standards contributions and interventions.

Consumer Direct - 08454 04 05 06

Consumer Direct is a Government-backed telephone and online consumer advice service which works in partnership with Local Authority Trading Standards. It provides clear, practical and impartial advice and information to help consumers resolve problems and disagreements with suppliers of goods and services. Consumer Direct is available from 0800-1830 Monday to Friday, and 0900-1300 Saturday, excluding bank and public holidays.

Calls cost a maximum of 4 pence per minute from a BT landline. Calls from mobiles or other networks may vary. Your service provider may charge a minimum cost per call. The advice and information given is free.