Returning an online purchase that arrived late - who pays postage and do I get a refund?

If you want to return or cancel an online purchase that hasn't arrived or arrived late, you'll be able to get a refund and, in most cases, you'll be able to recoup some of the delivery costs. 

But, you'll usually have to pay postage to return the goods, unless the retailer offers free returns.

I’m fed up waiting for my online order, I want to cancel

If you purchased the goods at a distance - over the phone, by email or online, for example - you are covered by the Consumer Contracts Regulations and can cancel the late or missing order.

You can exercise this right at any time from the moment you place the order and up to 14 days after you receive the order. Just let the retailer know in writing.

If the goods show up after you cancelled them with the retailer, inform them of this.

You'll have a further 14 days from the date you notify the retailer of the arrival of the goods in which to return the goods to them.

If you choose to do this, you’ll be able to get a refund for:

  • the goods that were late arriving
  • full delivery costs, including any extra you might have paid for timed or express delivery

You’ll have to pay cost of returning the item to the retailer when it shows up, unless they offer free returns. 

Have you waited an unreasonable length of time?

Even if your goods are late arriving and you cancelled, you'll usually still have to pay to return them to the retailer if they later show up. 

But if you've waited an unreasonable length of time, you've complained to retailer and you've cancelled the order, then you can contact the retailer to ask them to cover the cost of returning if the goods later show up.

Read our guide for more information on cancelling an online order.

This right to cancel doesn’t apply to orders made in person or in a store.

Was it clear that you needed delivery by a certain time?

When you buy goods online from a retailer you're entering into a contract of sale.

The retailer should send goods without undue delay and no longer than 30 days from the date you placed your order - unless a specific date or period for delivery is agreed as part of the contract. For example, you paid extra for timed delivery on a specific date. 

This applies to orders made at a distance and to orders made in person at a store. These rights are in addition to your online cancellation rights under the Consumer Contracts Regulations.

If your parcel is late, your next steps and what you’ll get refunded depend on how obvious or not it was to the retailer that you needed the goods by a certain date.

Did you make it clear or was it obvious?

If you made it clear to the retailer at the time you placed your order that you needed the goods by a certain date and they’ve arrived late, you can treat the contract as at an end.

You can also treat the contract as at an end if it should have been obvious to the retailer at the time that delivery by a certain date was essential. For example, if you order a Christmas tree on 15 November and it arrives after 25 December, you could argue that it should have been obvious to the retailer that delivery before 25 December was essential.

This means you can cancel the contract and can get a refund for:

  • the goods that were late arriving
  • full delivery costs, including any extra you might have paid for timed or express delivery
  • any costs you might have to pay to return the goods to the retailer if they aren’t able to collect it from you

Were you unclear or was it unobvious?

If you didn’t let the retailer know you needed the goods by a certain date when you purchased them, or it couldn’t have been obvious to the retailer, you’ll need to give them another chance to deliver your goods.

Contact the retailer to explain that it’s now become essential for you to receive the goods by a certain date and that you’ll cancel if they don’t honour this. Give them a reasonable timeframe.

For example, the late parcel contained a birthday gift. While getting it by the original delivery date of yesterday wasn’t essential, your friend’s birthday is Saturday next week. So, you need to get the parcel by next week Friday at the latest.

If the retailer doesn’t manage to get the goods to you within that new and reasonable timeframe, then you can treat the contract as at an end.

If you’ve given the retailer an opportunity to redeliver and you still don’t have the goods, you can get the cost of delivery refunded even if the goods are transit.

This means you can get a refund for:

  • the goods that were late arriving
  • full delivery costs, including any extra you might have paid for timed or express delivery
  • any costs you might have to pay to return the goods to the retailer if they aren’t able to collect it from you

Read our how to complain if parcel is late or doesn’t show up for further guidance.

I want to keep the goods when they eventually show up

You won’t get refunded the basic cost when your goods eventually arrive, but you will get any extra costs for special or timed delivery refunded.

Contact the retailer to request this if it doesn’t happen.

Why do I get back the extra delivery cost, but not the basic?

If you paid the retailer extra for express or timed delivery and your parcel doesn’t arrive or arrived after the date you paid extra for, you can ask for a refund of the extra money you paid.

This is because the retailer hasn’t performed that part of the service you paid extra to have.

You don’t get the basic amount back because they did (eventually) deliver the parcel to you.

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