The scheme is meant to fill the gap left by the Consumers Association's (CA) Which? Web Trader scheme, which had been free to join since its launch in July 1999 but closed earlier this year. Paul Kitchen, head of online at the CA, had blamed the cost of maintaining the code for its closure.
"At the moment we are hoping SafeBuy will break even," said Richard Jones, managing director of Software Research and founder of the scheme. "It is not intended to be loss-making."
He continued: "Our scheme is very similar to the CA's. We are incorporating the new EU Directive on email-marketing into our terms and conditions, which wasn't an issue for Which? Web Trader," said Jones. "We also offer a mediation service between retailers and consumers that the previous scheme did not have - it just offered legal advice to consumers, which we felt was rather one-sided."
SafeBuy is backed by industry regulation body TrustUK, which is supported by the DTI, as well as the Institute of Directors and Institute of Direct Marketing. To date, 25 retailers have signed up to it, including The Carphone Warehouse and domain-name registration firm Internetters.
"To have a nationally-recognised accreditation scheme for web retailers can only provide more confidence for consumers," pointed out Andy Harding, head of ecommerce at The Carphone Warehouse.
Retailers that want to display the SafeBuy kitemark need to meet several requirements outlined on its site (www.safebuy. org.uk). These include clearly accessible details of the retailer's name and address; errors in order-processing, delivery or administration to be corrected within 30 days; and no orders to be accepted from children aged 16 or under without the consent of a parent or guardian.
To meet TrustUK standards, SafeBuy requires that members register under the Data Protection Act, an issue that is causing some concern.
Alistair Barron, director at Weatherfront, which runs UK Weathershop (www.ukweathershop.co.uk), said that although his firm was among the first to sign up to SafeBuy, it wouldn't be renewing. "I think the scheme is admirable and I'm happy to pay the main fee, but I believe it is unreasonable for TrustUK to insist small companies sign up to more red tape and expense by registering under the Data Protection Act," he added.