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Updated: 22 Nov 2021

Your online shopping rights

Five consumer rights you need to know when you’re shopping online
Adam French

More of us than ever are going online to do our shopping. But a cut-price online deal shouldn't mean your consumer rights are also given the chop.

Here, we've rounded up five consumer rights you need to know when you’re shopping online.

1. Get extra protection when you pay

The way you pay can make a big difference to how easily you can get your money back if something goes wrong, especially if the retailer goes bust. 

Online-shopping2 password-managers

Debit and credit card protection

If you pay on your credit card, you have the added bonus of Section 75 protection. This means that if something goes wrong with the purchase, and you’ve spent between £100 and £30,000, you can make a claim to get the money back from your credit card provider.

If you pay with your debit card and something goes wrong, you can make a chargeback claim. This is where the bank withdraws funds that were previously deposited into the retailer’s account and puts them back into yours.

Buy now pay later (BNPL) schemes

A whole raft of retailers now give you the option to ‘buy now pay later’ at the checkout. Klarna, Clearpay and Laybuy are finance services that allow you to pay for items after you receive them – typically 30 days later or in a series of instalments.

You may be tempted to use one of these services if money is tight, but it’s important to make yourself aware of the consequences of missing repayments.

Paypal buyer protection

Similar to payment protections like chargeback, Paypal has its own buyer protection policy that promises to safeguard users against breaches of contract, including missing deliveries, or when items turn out to be fake, faulty, or not what was expected.

But you will need to file a dispute within 180 days of your purchase or payment.

2. Check the returns policy 

It’s a good idea to check what the return policy is before ordering an item. All online retailers are required by the Consumer Contracts Regulations to give you a minimum of 14 days from when you receive most types of item to decide whether you want to keep it. And a further 14 days to return it for a refund.

This is a legal minimum and many retailers extend this period – especially at Christmas – so you might have more time than you think.

There are a few exemptions to this rule such as hygiene products, personalised goods and items that can be easily copied, such as DVDs and CDs.

eBay’s Money Back Guarantee offers similar protection if an item doesn’t arrive, arrives not as described, arrives broken or faulty, but you must you read the eBay Money Back Guarantee terms before purchasing, to ensure you’re covered in case something goes wrong.

For the Money Back Guarantee to apply you must complete the purchase on the eBay platform, using one of its approved payment methods - payments via bank transfer or any other offline payment methods are not covered by eBay’s Money Back Guarantee.

Additionally, vehicles, real estate, business and websites for sale, digital content, classified ads, services, and some business equipment categories, are not covered.

3. Know your delivery rights

If you’re buying from a seller on an online marketplace, be sure to check what the delivery date is before purchasing. Products from overseas will probably take considerably longer to get to you. It’s also worth checking which courier the seller or retailer is using and what the estimated delivery date is.

Remember, it’s always the retailer's responsibility to deliver your goods to you, so if your parcel doesn't turn up on time, has gone missing, arrives damaged, or is stolen from your doorstep, it is on the retailer to put it right. 

You don't need to chase the delivery company or courier if there is a problem. Know your delivery rights and always speak to the retailer in the first instance.

A Which? member in 2019

4. Get a repair, replacement or refund

Hunting for the best online dealscan be stressful enough without discovering that you've bought something that's faulty. We recommend that you go to the retailer in the first instance, rather than using a warranty. This is because the Consumer Rights Act has strict rules retailers must follow.  

First, move quickly, the act gives you a brisk 30 days to reject something that's faulty and get your money back.

Your rights don’t end after 30 days but, from then on, the retailer has the option of repairing or replacing the faulty product, rather than having to give you a refund. 

Family paying TV license online

5. Know who you are buying from

By law, when you’re dealing with a business as a consumer, you need to know – or be able to find out – who you're dealing with. A retailer's identity and address must be displayed on its website. But individuals selling online are not governed by the same rules.

If you buy from an individual on a marketplace this is similar to buying from a classified advert in a local paper, and the principle of 'buyer beware' applies.

When you buy from an individual (as opposed to a retailer), it’s not as straightforward. While the goods you get must be as they were described to you by the seller, there's no obligation on the seller to disclose any faults.

But misrepresenting goods isn't allowed. For example, something second-hand should not be described as new. If it is, the seller will be in breach of contract.

Thankfully many online marketplaces have protection and dispute-resolution systems built in. For example, if you buy using eBay you can use the Resolution Centre to raise a dispute. Check the website of the online marketplace you're using to find out more.