Online shopping can be an easy and safe way to make purchases, and the Covid-19 pandemic has only reinforced this trend. Even with brick and mortar stores fully open again to the public, customers are keen to purchase online, whilst the current supply chain issues are also making online shopping even more attractive.
However, it’s important to know your rights when you shop this way. How can you make sure you shop securely? Can you get a refund or exchange the item you purchased before the sales that is now much cheaper?
What are your rights when you shop for an item from overseas? Do you really have to pay expensive customs fees on a great deal from outside the UK or EU?
Roula Khirallah, Legal Adviser at DAS Law, explains what every online shopper needs to know…
What rights do I have when shopping online?
You have 14 days to return the item if you change your mind – even if there is nothing wrong with the item – starting from the date of delivery, not date of purchase. Whilst you are entitled to receive a refund for the item and standard delivery charges you may be liable for the costs of sending the item back however, so again check the terms and conditions.
Do I have any legal rights to return something if I have changed my mind?
If you buy an item in a shop, some stores will offer a returns policy within a specific period but this is not obligatory if there is nothing wrong with the item. It is always advisable to check each individual store’s returns policy before buying – no matter how good a deal it may be at the time. For online purchases see What rights do I have when shopping online? above.
What if an item I purchased before the Black Friday/Cyber Monday sales is now on offer at a cheaper price?
If the store’s return policy allows a refund then it may be possible to refund the previous purchase and buy the same item at a discounted price. The law does not automatically entitle you to do this; however, it is worth checking the store’s return policy for discounted items as they generally offer more rights than the law guarantees.
If I ordered goods from suppliers outside of the UK and was sent the wrong item or the item was faulty and the company is refusing to give me a refund, what can I do?
Under EU legislation there is a two year guarantee period for products bought within the EU. If the goods you have received are not as described, not fit for purpose, or not of satisfactory quality, you have the right to request either a repair or replacement.
The trader should cover all the costs of arranging this and, if they refuse, then you may have a claim against them. This claim can be brought in either the EU Member State where they are based, or in the UK (of course this may change post-Brexit). Before doing this you should speak to a solicitor or contact an organisation such as the European Consumer Centre for free advice.
If you have purchased goods from outside the EU then the relevant law is that which applies in the trader’s country of origin. This will make it more difficult if they refuse a refund or to help fix a faulty product. If you have paid for the product on credit or debit card you may be able to claim a refund or a remedy from your card provider (see below).
If I am buying products from a website outside of the UK, what is the most secure way to pay?
The most secure method of paying for goods online is to use a credit card. If there is a fault, or you are a victim of fraud, on purchases between £100 and £30,000, you have protection under s75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
This means that you may be able to recover the monies from the credit card company rather than pursuing the retailer. For transactions that are below £100 or transactions done via debit card you may be able to claim under chargeback scheme.
Most debit and credit cards are covered under this scheme but it’s best to check with the card provider prior to making any purchases.
Can a company based in the UK sue me if I write negative reviews online about their service?
As long as your review is factually correct, or is simply an expression of your honestly held opinion, then it is extremely unlikely to be considered defamatory and a company will probably not have a legal basis to pursue a claim against you.
If I order a product and am charged customs fees, do I have to pay them?
Yes you do. If you do not pay duty or customs fees within three weeks, your courier company will usually send the product back to the sender. If you dispute the amount charged then you would need to appeal to HMRC and UK Border Force. Whist you are responsible to pay the fees to the courier company it is worth checking the terms and conditions of the sales contract to see if the seller has undertaken to reimburse you for the customs fees.
On Black Friday, companies receive huge amounts of orders in the same day; this might cause issues with delivery, and its good practice to know your rights.
Who is responsible if I received my order damaged by the delivery?
Under Consumer Rights Act 2015, if the retailer arranged the delivery then the retailer will be responsible for any issue arise during the delivery process until the customer received the goods or anyone appointed by the customer for example, the neighbour then the risk will be passes from the retailer to the consumer.
The situation will be different if the courier appointed by the customer directly, then the courier will be responsible and the customer can sue him directly.
The standard time limit for delivery is 30 days and should be without undue delay unless the retailer and the customer agree otherwise.
On Black Friday customers might enter into a contract without deep consideration because of the appealing price the trader might offer, but what are the customer rights for cancellation if it’s for a service started immediately such as Gym membership?
Unfortunately, the customer has to pay for the service that has been used during the 14-day cooling period, but they still have the right to cancel the contract.
What can a consumer do if they have been caught by a subscription trap?
A subscription trap is when a consumer is misled into signing up for a subscription for goods or services. This is commonly done by the retailer promising a free trial, a reduced rate trial or sample goods where the consumer only has to pay for postage and packaging using a credit or debit card.
"Subscription traps" have been the subject of regulatory focus for several years and government action on them is awaited.
Subscription traps generally involve a continuous payment authority (CPA) in favour of the retailer. Consumers have the right to cancel CPAs with their card issuers and to obtain a refund in respect of any payments taken after such cancellation. But there are many factors that need to be taken into account for the customer in order to be able to claim for a refund, such as:
- Whether the trader is in breach of its obligations;
- Whether the payment terms could be unfair and so non-binding on the consumer;
- Whether the trader, in failing to make it clear that a subscription was being entered into, committing a misleading action;
- Whether the consumer may be able to argue that the obligation to make payment was not incorporated into their contract with the trader and, as such, is unenforceable, etc.
It may also be possible to make a claim against the credit card company in respect of the pre-cancellation payments. Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 makes the credit card company jointly and severally liable with the trader for a misrepresentation or breach of contract.
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Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.