Online refunds 'should include delivery fees'Europe's top court overrules German law

19 April 2010

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You have extra protection shopping online

Consumers shopping online must not be charged for the delivery of goods they choose to return straight away, according to a ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

Although the consumer should pay the cost of returning unwanted goods, Europe's top court has ruled that every other cost must be reimbursed by the online retailer.

The ruling came down on German retailer, Heinrich Heine, in a case involving a €4.95 delivery charge. The retailer argued that German law doesn't grant the right to a refund of delivery charges, but the German Federal Court said that if the German law is in conflict with the EU law then it will have to be changed.

Our independent advice guide to talks you through your rights to return and cancel unwanted goods, as well as providing you with advice on how to complain about online shopping orders. 

Online shopping rights

The confusion in Germany appears to be rooted in the phrasing of the Distance Selling Directive, which states: 'The supplier shall be obliged to reimburse the sums paid by the consumer free of charge. The only charge that may be made to the consumer because of the exercise of his right of withdrawal is the direct cost of returning the goods.'

The German government's interpretation of the directive was that the customer was entitled to a reimbursement of the cost of the goods, not their delivery. However, the directive authorises suppliers to charge customers for returning the goods if they choose to withdraw from the contract. Under German law, this would amount to paying twice and could dissuade consumers from exercising the right to withdraw from the contract.

Postage cost refunds

Guidance on how best to comply with the Distance Selling Regulations from the Office of Fair Trading states that UK retailers should be refunding original postage costs if the customer chooses to cancel their order. Retailers can charge customers the return costs for the goods, but have to explicitly state in their terms and conditions that they intend to do so.

Which? shopping expert Sarah Dennis says: 'This ruling confirms what has been long thought to be best practice so that consumers can enjoy all the rights they're entitled to when shopping online or through mail order. Which? hopes that UK shops that aren't currently refunding postage charges to their customers will take notice.'

Shopping advice from Which?

If you're unsure of your consumer rights and how they are affected by the law, Which? Legal Service offers unlimited legal advice from our top consumer lawyers.

The Which? online shops review reveals the best and worst shopping websites, spanning eight categories from entertainment to clothing. More than 80 online retailers have been judged on customer service, quality, products and price in our biggest online shopping survey yet. 

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