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Posted on 18th December 2017 by Martina Nee

Christmas is a time for friends and family – it is also a time when people go a bit nuts flashing the cash, or the card, while trying desperately to get the ultimate gift in time for the big day. Whether you’ve been flying through that gift list while online or during shopping trips abroad there’s a few things to remember about your EU consumer rights for Christmas shopping returns.

In this month’s ebulletin, we will be giving you a little reminder about your rights, in particular how the returns policies are different when you buy something online compared to buying something in person.

As usual, there is also the consumer success story of the month which features a case where the consumer was under-refunded each time she returned clothing items. Our consumer query of the month is a festive one as it features a situation where a consumer received faulty Christmas boxes and didn’t receive personalised ornaments at all.

The ECC Ireland team would also like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. If you have a consumer issue that you need advice for over the festive period please note that our office will be closed from Saturday 23rd December, 2017, and will reopen on Tuesday 2nd January. You can leave a voicemail, send an email, or use our online contact form and we’ll get back to you in the New Year as soon as we can.

You can download your free December eBulletin PDF here or, alternatively, read on to find out more.

Christmas shopping returns

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When can you cool off? The 14 day cooling off period

The Christmas shopping rush can get a bit crazy. There’s the mad crowds who seem to bang into you with kamikaze-like precision followed by the ultimate test of patience of battling your way home (bus and Luas survivors know the pain). If you want to avoid this carnage then being able to go online and get through that Christmas gift list from the comfort of your own home without even having to get out of your pjs is a God send.

Fuelled by copius amounts of hot chocolate, you’re ready to grab that credit card and punch in those digits. However, sometimes our enthusiasm can get the better of us and we haven’t really thought things through before hitting that purchase button. Or maybe, once we receive the goods it isn’t what we expected or we just simply change our minds? Whatever the reason the other good thing about shopping online is that consumers can avail of the right to withdraw, otherwise known as the 14 day cooling off period.

Under EU rules, when you’re shopping online from a trader based within the EU/EEA you have 14 calendar days to cancel the contract and return the purchases to the seller without having to give a reason. If you simply change your mind, that’s fine. When you buy something in a store you have the chance to pick the good up, test it, ask questions, try it on (if applicable) but when shopping online you can’t do this so the cooling off period is something that the European Commission brought in to level the playing field and give consumers a chance to decide if they really want the good(s) or not.

When does the cooling off period kick in?

This is very important to remember, particularly if it applies to a Christmas gift that you have bought for someone. When you pay for the online purchase and receive your order confirmation but then change your mind, you should really try to inform the trader as soon as you can. However, if the product has already been dispatched then don’t worry because the 14 day cooling off period will begin from the day you receive the item. Once you’ve told the trader that you wish to avail of your right to withdraw from the contract then you have another 14 days to send the product back (You might consider sending the product back by registered post so that you have proof that this has been done).

Example time:

If you buy a Christmas gift online and it arrives into your thankful hands in the nick of time on Friday 22nd December but then by 4th January (13th day of the first 14 day cooling off period) the person you gave it to decides they don’t like it. Trying not to take offence, you contact the trader that very same day to let them know you want to return the product, then you’ll have until the 18th to return it safe and sound.

Please note: You may have to pay for the cost of returning the product. You should also take all necessary steps to ensure that the product is returned to the seller in good condition.

Some purchases are not covered by the 14 day cooling off period

There are some online purchases that are not covered by the cooling-off period. These include:

  • Hotel bookings, car rental, travel tickets and other leisure services (contracts that apply to a specific date or period of performance);
  • Goods made to your specifications or which are clearly personalised;
  • Audio and visual recordings, or computer software, which has been unsealed by the consumer;
  • Services that have already begun, with the consumer’s agreement, before the end of the 14 working day period;
  • Goods which are liable to deteriorate or expire rapidly, for example, perishable goods;
  • Gaming or lottery services.

Trader’s obligations in relation to the cooling off period

Under EU legislation, traders are obligated to provide certain information on their websites that includes providing information in relation to the the right to cancel – that it exists and how to do it. If a consumer does not receive information on the right to cancel, the cancellation period may be extended by 12 months.

Refund and exchange is not automatic right for in store purchases

Maybe you’ve been lucky enough to go on a lovely shopping trip abroad – a quick hop over to London’s Oxford Street, pick up some wonderful leather goods in Italy or especially delicious chocolates in Belgium. Or maybe you’re planning on spending Christmas in sunnier climes – anyone for turkey near a Spanish beach?

Wherever you’ve been or plan to go within the EU/EEA, if you’ve bought something from a shop under EU consumer legislation you are entitled to certain rights when things go wrong. However, you are not automatically entitled to a refund or exchange just because you changed your mind and don’t want it anymore. This also applies if you bought something from a shop down the road on the high street in Ireland.

If you bought something in person from a shop then the returns policy is really up to the trader, as long as it doesn’t adversely affect statutory consumer rights (for example, your rights when the good turns out to be faulty), but some shops may offer some form of exchange or refund as a gesture of goodwill and even have extended Christmas policies. Be warned however, this may sometimes only be a refund in the form of a credit note or gift voucher rather than money back. Many traders provide normal receipts and gift receipts that have the returns policy written on it.

For this reason, it is very important to take the time to ask a store representative what the return policy is, particularly if the item is a gift or is on sale at a reduced price.

Ask questions like: ‘What if the person I’m giving this to doesn’t like it, can he/she bring it back?’; ‘I’m buying this for a person in [county/country], can they bring it back to one of your stores there if it’s not suitable?’; ‘Do you give gift receipts?’; ‘How long do I have to return/exchange this?’; or ‘Do you still except returns if the package is opened?’. If you’ve bought the goods abroad then you need to find out how you can return it, where to send it, and what to do if it turns out to be faulty.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions and if the staff member you’re asking doesn’t know make sure to speak to someone who does. Better to be safe than sorry and ask the questions now rather than when it’s too late.

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In other consumer news:

Ryanair’s new cabin bag policy to come into affect next month

The days of bringing two bags on the plane with you will soon come to a close as Ryanair will be starting its new cabin bag policy next month. So, remember when you’re flying with Ryanair that from 15th January this new cabin bag policy will be in place and to make sure you know how it applies to you.

From 15th January, 2018, only priority boarding customers will be allowed to bring two carry-on bags on the aircraft. All other customers will only be allowed to bring one smaller carry-on bag on board, while their second (bigger) bag will be placed in the hold, free of charge, at the boarding gate.

Ryanair has also announced that there will be a reduction in the fee for checked bags (from €35 to €25) and an increase in the check-in bag allowance from 15kg to 20kg. The airline hopes that this will encourage more customers to book check-in bags and reduce the volume of carry-on bags.

“This will speed up the boarding of flights and eliminate flight delays, alongside our new checked bag policy which offers our customers lower bag fees for a 33% increase in their checked bag allowance,’ said Ryanair’s Kenny Jacobs.

December’s consumer news round-ups – in case you missed it!

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Consumer success story of the month:

An Irish consumer was overcharged every time she purchased clothing from a UK trader and under-refunded every time she returned any goods. The consumer contacted her bank to ask about these charges and was told that the trader is responsible for the extra charges/deductions in refunds. When contacted, the trader was very uncooperative and continuously provided the consumer with the same replies – that the bank was to blame for the charges.

There was no mention of extra charges or deductions in refunds in the trader’s terms and conditions. When the consumer bought the items, the price was displayed in Euros therefore indicating that currency exchanges/conversion charges should not be an issue. However, there were irregularities in price amounting to €16.77.

The consumer contacted ECC Ireland and colleagues in UK ECC made contact with the trader to outline the consumer’s right to clear and accurate information on the price of goods and services and how it is considered a misleading action to provide false or untruthful information that deceives or is likely to deceive the average consumer. As a result of this, the consumer received a phone call from the trader’s customer service manager and was provided with a refund for all cases where she was under-refunded. The trader also admitted that this was not an isolated case and that the IT department was now looking into the issue.

Consumer query of the month:

Q: I ordered personalised Christmas ornaments and four festive Christmas boxes for my children from an online UK based trader. The boxes were meant to say ‘Express delivery from the North Pole’ and have the name of each of my children on it. When I received the boxes one of them was okay but the other three had very faded writing and the hinges were broken. To top it off, the ornaments never even arrived. When I contacted the trader he told me that I could get a replacement or get a £30 refund. I decided to ask for a refund and I was told that a courier would be sent out to collect the faulty boxes and give me replacements. That was on 3rd November but I haven’t heard anything since. The trader is no longer replying to me. What can I do?

A: As the boxes were personalised you wouldn’t be able to avail of your right to a 14 day cooling off period. However, as they were clearly not as described and faulty then under EU consumer legislation the seller is obligated to provide certain remedies. In cases where the product is not in conformity with the contract, for example, the faded writing and broken hinges, then the seller should provide you with a repair or replacement free of charge. If this is not possible, is disproportionate, or cannot be completed within a reasonable time without significant inconvenience to you, then you’re entitled to ask for either a reduction in the price or a full refund.

In relation to the ornaments that never arrived, online purchases should be delivered within 30 days unless you’ve agreed a particular time/date of delivery with the seller. If a trader does not deliver the item(s) within the period of time agreed then consumers may contact the trader and ask that it be delivered at a later date that is convenient to you. If the trader again fails to deliver within this additional timeframe then the consumer is entitled to cancel the contract and ask for a full refund. However, if you had told the trader that delivery by a certain date was essential, e.g. before Christmas Day, and this was agreed, then you are entitled to cancel the contract after the initial 30 day period has expired.

If the trader continues to not respond to your correspondence then, if you had paid with a secure method of payment, you could contact your bank or credit card provider to see if you can avail of chargeback on the basis of faulty goods (boxes) and non-delivery (ornaments).

 

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If you want more information about this or any other cross-border consumer issue, please contact us on 01 8797 620 or go to www.eccireland.ie. You can also follow us on Twitter.

Martina Nee

Press and Communications Manager

The European Consumer Centre is part of the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net), which covers 30 countries (all EU countries plus Norway and Iceland), and offers a free and confidential information and advice service to the public on their rights as consumers, assisting customers with cross-border disputes. ECC Ireland is funded by the European Commission and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure accuracy, the European Consumer Centre cannot be held responsible for matters arising from any errors or omissions contained in this publication. The information provided is intended as a guide only and not as a legal interpretation.

© 2017 – European Consumer Centre (Ireland), CLG incorporated in Ireland, No. 367035, Registered Charity No. 20048617 – CHY14708. Located at MACRO Centre, 1 Green Street, Dublin 7.

This ebulletin is part of the action 670695 – ECC-Net IE FPA which has received funding under a grant for an ECC action from the European Union’s Consumer Programme (2014-2020).

The content of this ebulletin represents the views of the author only and it is his/her sole responsibility; it cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the Consumers, Health, Agriculture, and Food Executive Agency or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission and the Agency do not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.

 

Competition and consumer protection commission