Consumer watchdog Which announced yesterday that it would be closing its Web Trader scheme, a code of practice for online retailers in the UK, at the end of the month.

The logo, which adorns hundreds of traders' websites, was launched in July 1999 to promote consumer confidence in e-shopping and to "provide an independent code of practice with teeth". Any trader which agreed to a series of guidelines could display the logo on its site.
But despite its obvious success, a lack of funds has led to a closure of the scheme.
"Since Which? Web Trader launched three and a half years ago it has received over 8,000 applications from e-traders of which 2,700 were accepted,” said Paul Kitchen, head of online at the Consumers Association. “It has also successfully resolved over 2,000 disputes on behalf of consumers."

"But providing such an effective and well-monitored code costs a significant amount of money each year as Which? has maintained its independence by keeping Web Trader free to traders. As a charity and campaigning organisation we need to use resources in the most efficient way possible."

The group's work in this field, however, is far from over. It has taken part in the negotiations between European consumer watchdog Bureau European des Unions de Consommateurs and European business watchdog Unice in developing standards for Europe-wide trust marks.

"There is still a need to increase consumer confidence about shopping online and we think it is now up to businesses and government to set up an alternative scheme to build on [our] successful work," added Kitchen.

All existing logos will be withdrawn from online retailers’ sites by 31 January 2003.