Know your online shopping rights and get consumer protection
Did you know online shopping gives you extra consumer protection? Find out how...
I don't know about you, but I always think twice about what might go wrong whenever I shop online for Christmas gifts. There's something about the lack of high street presence which makes me worry.
What happens if I buy an item which turns out to be faulty? Will I really be able to return it in time and get my money back? Or, what if the item doesn't turn up at all? Will my order be lost in the online abyss forever never to see the light of day again?
The fact that I can't march into a shop and complain to a sales assistant face-to-face gives me less confidence in online shopping. And I don't think I'm alone.
Your rights on the high street
If I buy a dress at a local department store which falls apart at the seams, I'm pretty sure I can take it back tomorrow and get my money back no problem.
You can find out everything you need to know about high street shopping in Your right to refunds, repairs and replacements - but here's a quick summary: As a consumer you have important legal protection. Any goods you buy must be of satisfactory quality (so not about to fall apart), and must also be 'as described' by the retailer and 'fit for purpose'.
But, unfortunately, if there's absolutely nothing wrong with an item, you don't automatically have the right to a refund just because you've changed your mind. You might find some retailers will let you have your money back in the name of good PR, but it's not your right by law.
Your rights online
So, let me put your mind at rest. When it comes to shopping online this Christmas, you have all the same rights as high street shoppers. In fact, you get some extra protection too under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000.
After making most online purchases, you'll be entitled to a cooling-off period. With products, the period begins as soon as you make your order, and ends seven working days after you have received the goods. But if you buy a service online (rather than a product), the seven days starts from the date you order the items.
And when I say 'cooling off period' I mean: you'll be entitled to a refund for any reason in this seven day window. So, if I decide that even though the seams of the dress I buy online are absolutely fine, but I'm not too keen on the colour, I can return it and get my money back, no questions asked.
However, the cooling-off period doesn't apply to all online purchases. Take a look at the exclusions:
- Goods made to your specification
- Perishable goods such as flowers and fresh food
- CDs, DVDs, and tapes which are unsealed
- Newspapers and magazines
- Betting, gaming and lotteries
And don't forget, with auctions and private sellers think 'caveat emptor' or 'buyer beware' because they can refuse to accept responsibility for the quality of any goods you buy from them.
Other key rules
The other main regulations which give you, the online shopper, protection are:
- You must be given clear information about the goods or services before you buy
- Your goods must be delivered within thirty days unless you agree otherwise with the supplier. If that doesn't happen, you'll be entitled to a refund.
- Once you have notified the supplier in writing (or another durable medium) that you want to cancel your purchase, you must be fully refunded within 30 days.
Once again there are exceptions. These rules and the cooling-off period don't apply to financial products bought online (although the financial services industry has its own regulations), or to contracts involving the sale of land.
What happens if goods are faulty but the seven days are up?
It's a good idea to check that goods you have bought aren't defective as soon as you can. But don't worry if you haven't had enough time to examine them properly during the seven day cooling-off period. If you or the person you give them to later finds a fault, then you still have rights to a refund, repair, replacement or compensation under the Sale of Goods Act.
A word on Section 75
Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act can help when your credit card purchases go wrong
Don't forget, it's a good idea to pay for your online shopping using your credit card. If the supplier of your goods breaches the contract you have with them, you can actually claim costs from your credit card company under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
This applies where the price of a single item is at least £100, and no more than £30,000. (Note that the protection still applies even if you don't pay for the full purchase price using your card.)
Section 75 provides very useful protection. Let's say your supplier has sent you faulty goods but has since gone out of business. It may be impossible to get a refund from the supplier, but you can pursue your credit card company for redress instead.
This is a lovemoney.com classic article, originally published in November 2010 and updated.