Many online shoppers unaware of rightsCampaign seeks to raise consumer awareness

12 November 2007

 

More than half of the estimated 27 million shoppers buying online this Christmas will be in the dark about their basic consumer rights, a consumer watchdog has warned.

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) estimates that annual online spending has hit more than £30 billion – but a high percentage of shoppers are unaware of their consumer rights.

The findings from a recent OFT study revealed that online shoppers didn't know they could cancel an order, how to get a refund and how to check online traders meet legal rules.

However Which? Legal Service, the telephone advice helpline operated by Which?, says the specific laws that govern internet and distance shopping can make it a safer way to shop.

Shoppers' rights

It's put together a quick-glance guide to your shoppers’ rights online:

Changing your mind - once an order is placed online, Under the Distance Selling Regulations there is a cooling-off period starting the minute you place the order and ending seven working days the day after receiving the goods, during which time you are free to cancel. If buying a service, the seven working days starts the day after you place the order. If you agree that a service will start straight away, you give up your right to cancel. Items which can't be returned include: CDs, DVDs or software if the seal on the wrapping is broken; perishable items; and tailor-made or personable goods. Take a look at our guide to returning an online order.

Online protection - the retailer must give both a geographical and an email contact address. If you receive an email confirming your order, you have a legally binding contract, but if it’s just an acknowledgment, you don't.

Faulty goods - whether purchased online or on the high street, the seller is still responsible for the condition of the goods on delivery and must also bear the cost of returning them if they are problematic.

Special offers - check the terms and conditions – some companies only accept the order when the goods are removed from the shelves and this may be after the offer expires. If you are charged full price, you don’t have to pay; you can send the goods back with the delivery driver.

Buyer beware – when buying goods privately there is little legal protection. The law on auction sites is unclear, but there is an argument that if you buy the goods from a trader it’s not a true auction, so you have protection under the Sale of Goods Act. To date, the law has not been tested enough for any hard and fast rules to have been set.

Credit card protection

Peter McCarthy, Senior Lawyer at Which? Legal Service said: 'It’s a great time to buy online, especially with the new ruling on . But it’s also important to know exactly what your rights are before surfing the net for bargains.

'Online shopping isn't always a case of ‘what you see is what you get’. It can be difficult when all you have to go on is a photo. As well as your statutory rights, it’s worth checking returns policies, as these do vary. For example, Dabs gives 10 days to return unwanted goods, whereas Amazon is much more generous, with 30 days.'

To learn more read the Which? report on . We also have advice on paying by credit card, , and cancelling contracts.