Shopping online offers great choice, value and convenience. You may be worried that you do not have the same rights when buying online as you do when buying on the high street but in fact, in most cases your rights are even stronger. If you buy something online, you are covered by consumer legislation just as if you buy it in person
- If you purchase goods that are not of satisfactory quality you may be entitled to a repair, replacement or refund, depending on the circumstances of the case.
- Any description of information about goods or services should be accurate and not misleading. If you have been given false or misleading information you may be entitled to a refund.
You have additional rights under the EU Distance Selling Directive
, which are outlined below.
If you are buying goods or services from a trader online, the trader has certain obligations towards you:
Information to be provided
Before the contract is made you have to be given the following specific information in a clear manner.
The Right to Cancel (Cooling-Off Period)
- The name and address of the Supplier
- The main characteristics of the good/service
- The price including taxes and delivery costs and how payment is to be made
- How the goods are to be delivered or how the service will be performed
- That a right to cancel exists
- The minimum duration of the contract
- How long it will be open to you to enter into the contract on these terms
- The cost of the communication between the parties if its above a basic rate
- How the contract may be cancelled
- Any guarantees and after sales services that are available
- The conditions for terminating the contract if it is of unlimited duration or for longer that one year
When you purchase online you have at least 7 working days to return the goods or withdraw from the service without having to give any reason or without incurring any penalty i.e. unlike when shopping on the high street, you can get a refund if you simply don't like the goods. You may however have to pay for the cost of returning the goods. The goods must be sent by you within 7 working days of the following:
- In the case of goods, on the day you received the information referred to above (delivery details etc.)
- In the case of services, whichever is the later of
- the day the contract was concluded or
- the day the information referred to above (delivery details etc.) was received.
You can exercise this right for almost all types of goods. There are however some exceptions:
What if the product is unavailable?
- for the supply of goods made to your specifications or clearly personalised or which, by reason of their nature, cannot be returned or are liable to deteriorate or expire rapidly e.g. personalised t-shirts, perishable goods
- for the supply of audio or video recordings or computer software which were unsealed by the consumer e.g. DVDs, software installation CDs which have the seal removed
- for the supply of newspapers, periodicals and magazines
- for gaming and lottery services
- for the provision of services if that service has already begun, with the consumer's agreement, before the end of the seven working day period
- for the supply of goods or services the price of which is dependent on fluctuations in the financial market which cannot be controlled by the supplier,
Where the goods are unavailable, the supplier must inform you and refund you any monies paid within 30 days of informing him or her. Equivalent goods may be offered if the original product is not available. This can only be done where;
- the consumer has consented to this before the contract is made and
- the consumer is informed that if he or she decides to withdraw then no cost of returning the equivalent goods can be deducted by the supplier e.g. the supplier cannot charge you postage costs in the event that you want to return these 'equivalent' goods if you are not satisfied with them.
You should bear in mind that internet auctions are specifically excluded from the Distance Selling Directive. Furthermore, if you are purchasing goods from a private individual rather than a company, as is often the case at internet auctions, then the transaction is not covered by consumer legislation. A 'consumer' transaction involves a private individual buying goods or services from a seller acting in the course of his business, trade or profession, as opposed to two individuals acting in a private capacity. However, all good internet auction sites offer their own purchase protection for the buyer, along with plenty of good advice about safe shopping on their site. A good example of this is the Safe 'Surf' Code found on www.ebay.ie. Certain contracts are also outside the scope of the Directive:
- Financial Services like insurance or banking
- Purchases from Automatic Vending Machines
- Contracts for the Sale of Land
The application of certain provisions (e.g. cooling off period) are also excluded in:
- Plane, train or concert tickets or hotel bookings i.e. contracts for the provision of transport, accommodation, catering or leisure services where the supplier has undertaken to supply those services by a specific time or date
- Food and drink delivered to you home or at work by regular roundsmen (e.g. milkmen, supermarket delivery)
Finally, bear in mind that if you buy from a trader based outside the EU/EEA, European consumer legislation may not be applicable, so it is important that you check all the relevant details before placing an order. If you do not know the trader and you are not satisfied that they are based within the EU/EEA, extreme caution. Under European legislation traders are required to indicate their geographic address on the website; if you do not feel confident becasue the address does not seem to be genuine or there is no address at all, our advice is not to buy, although it is your sole responsibility to decide.
When using your credit card for online purchases it is advised to first of all check to see if the website is secure. The beginning of the retailer's Internet address will change from 'http' to 'https' before a purchase is made using a secure connection. There should also be a padlock symbol (security icon) on the bottom right of the web-page. Click on the security icon to ensure that the retailer has an encryption certificate, which helps to ensure that your personal information will be sent safely.
Always notify your credit card company immediately if you suspect fraudulent behaviour.
See our online Shopping Assistant, Howard
, to get details on a particular website or to get further advice on shopping online. To avoid any misunderstandings after placing an order online, it is advisable that you have full details of:
- Name and geographical address of the vendor.
- Step-by-step ordering procedures and delivery schedule.
- Cost of item, currency of payment and methods of payment
- Any other charges that may apply including delivery costs (VAT should be included or at least indicated on goods and services within the EU). Where the goods originate outside of the EU, VAT and customs duty will be levied at point of entry.
- Read the vendors' terms and conditions carefully to find out your rights and obligations under the contract.
- Confirmation of your order. You should receive a confirmation email if you do not have email, ask for a receipt if you are paying online. It is a good idea to print the confirmation page when the order is placed.
- Check your credit card statement carefully to ensure that you have been billed correctly. Inform your bank immediately if there is a discrepancy as they may contact the vendor to clarify the situation.
- Cancellation terms and complaints procedure if you are not satisfied with the goods.
- Make sure that you can establish the full contact details of the seller, including telephone number and postal address in case you need to contact them subsequently with any problems.
- Read buyer testimonies on the auction site's feedback forum and search on the internet to double check whether other consumers have run into difficulties.
- See if there is any additional purchase protection that is offered by the website to cover you if something goes wrong. Check any time limits which may apply to same.
- Never go offline and leave the auction site to conclude the transaction privately with the seller, as you will not be covered by the auction site's purchase protection.
- Do not use money transfer, such as Western Union, to make payment for an online purchase, as the money cannot be traced if something goes wrong.
- Use your credit card or the auction site's own mechanisms for making payments.
An escrow company acts as an intermediary or middleman for online transactions. When you have agreed to a deal with a seller, you send the money to the escrow company, the seller sends them the product, and when the escrow company have received both they send the product to you and the money to the seller. However, there have been a number of fraudulent escrow companies set up purely with a view to parting consumers from their cash and sellers from their products. These companies simply take the money and the products, and then disappear. If contemplating using an escrow company, be sure to only use companies that are specifically recommended or endorsed by reputable auction sites.