Do your research when shopping online
We’re catching the shopping online bug here in Ireland with 1.9 million (52 per cent) of us regular e-shoppers, according to research by Ecommerce Europe. Yes, my friends, online shopping is here to stay and is set to keep on growing. However, while there are many legitimate online traders, some consumers have been caught out by slick looking but fake websites, dodgy retail dealings, and sellers who could give Houdini a run for his money, and take it too.
This is the time of year when there are lots of young people trawling the internet for the ultimate Debs dress, or tux, and e-shoppers start to think about bargains in the lead up to Christmas (yes, I said the dreaded word!). For this month’s eBulletin, the ECC Ireland team thought it would be a good idea to focus on ecommerce websites and how to do your research before hitting the purchase button.
As always, we also have the consumer query of the month which involves a consumer who bought dresses online but experienced difficulties with delivery and getting a refund. The consumer success story focuses on how ECC Ireland and colleagues in UK ECC helped a consumer get a refund after returning goods to a trader.
To find out more read on below or download your free copy of ECC Ireland’s September 2016 eBulletin here.
Shopping online safely: Think before hitting that tempting purchase button
Buy, buy, buy! We are bombarded with so many tempting advertisements when browsing online or connecting with our friends on social media. Even when you’re not looking to buy anything a pop-up ad flashes before you, encouraging an impulse buy before the deal runs out. Buy now, or regret it, they say. However, we say, buy straight away without thinking and you may very well regret it.
We’re all shopping more on our mobiles and tablets which is great for the increase in ecommerce but perhaps not so fantastic for consumer rights protection and security. It is far easier for consumers to make snap purchase decisions without reading the small print, use public Wi-Fi to enter personal details, and do less research.
ECC Ireland is calling for consumers to think first before hitting the purchase button. If you see something that you like while swiping on your mobile then great, but maybe hold off until you get home and have the time to fully examine what you’re buying or agreeing to. After all, if a lengthy wordy contract was put in front of you to sign, would you just give your autograph and that’s it, without reading it first? So, why would buying goods or services online be any different? It is a contract between you and the seller and as such, should be given the same consideration before agreement is reached.
Tips for online shopping research and checking for fake websites:
It can be difficult to know where to start your online shopping research and keeping an eye out for fake websites. There we’ve a few tips to get you started.
Tip 1 – Make sure you know who you are buying from:
Try to avoid buying from unfamiliar sites and choose instead a trader with a proven reputation. Consumers should always check that the site provides full name and contact details, including a postal address. This is a legal obligation for traders. Look out for ‘contact us’ pages that only have a contact form (see picture below). This does not give you the full contact details of the trader. Our example also shows spelling mistakes which should set alarm bells ringing. You may find the address or clues as to where the trader is based in the terms and conditions section of the website. A reputable trader should ensure that contact details are easy to find so if the search is proving difficult then this should give you second thoughts about the purchase.
Tip 2 – Check how long the site has been operating for and where it is registered:
Fraudulent sites often pop up for a short period of time, enticing consumers with attractive offers only to disappear without a trace when money has been handed over. One way to check the bona fides of a website is to carry out a ‘whois’ lookup using a search engine. A few ‘whois’ websites will come up. When you’re on one of these websites you can then type the web address of the site you want to research, so that you can see, for instance, the details provided by the registrant and the date of registration. You may have to scroll down a bit for this information so read it thoroughly.
Remember, the website address could end with .ie or .co.uk. but don’t let that fool you. There have been many cases where it could seem that the online trader is based the UK or somewhere else in the EU but is actually based outside the EU or EEA (European Economic Area). You should also bear in mind that your EU consumer rights may not apply if you buy from a trader based outside the EU/EEA so doing your research about the trader’s actual location is very important.
Before you make any purchase, whether it is online or offline, always read the terms and conditions. As well as looking for the address of the trader, you should also pay particular attention to the trader’s policies in relation to cancellation and returns. Under EU legislation, a trader is obligated to give certain information in a clear manner, including how the contract may be cancelled (when such a right exists), the minimum duration of the contract, and how the goods are to be delivered or the service performed.
Tip 4 – Bad news gets around so look for reviews:
Another good way to find out about a trader is to search for reviews. If people have had very bad experiences then they will certainly let others know about it. A simple search on the internet should reveal comments from other customers. ECC Ireland has seen cases where people have done the review search after making payment only to find out, to their horror, that they have handed over their hard-earned cash to a trader that exhibited less than desirable retail habits. So, make sure to do this before completing payment, especially if the offer seems too good to be true. However, also be aware that there are fake reviews out there so don’t rely on just one source. Which? Consumer Rights has some more advice about online reviews and spotting fake websites.
Tip 5 – Ensure the site is secure:
Look for a padlock symbol in the right of the browser window or in the web address bar, and make sure the website has a secure connection (the address bar should show https://) when making a purchase. For example, if a consumer was thinking of picking up a snazzy dress from a reputable online trader then once she has selected the item and gone to the payment page to complete the transaction then this is when the padlock symbol and https:// should be found (see picture).
Tip 6 – Use a secure method of payment:
It is much more secure to pay by credit card or with PayPal when purchasing a good or service online than means of payment that offer no chargeback mechanism. Avoid paying in cash, or by bank transfer or money wiring service, as it may not be possible to trace the money once it reaches the beneficiery. Paying by card allows customer to seek redress from the credit card company/bank if something goes wrong. Beware any trader that will only accept payment in cash, or by bank transfer/money wiring service.
Tip 7 – Be cautious when making online purchases with your smartphone:
Smartphones may be less secure than ordinary desktop computers and can be vulnerable to malware. Be wary of clicking on links in message or emails. If in doubt – leave it alone. Consumers are also advised to avoid storing sensitive data such as passwords or financial information on their phones or accessing/using this information while using unsecure public Wi-Fi.
More shopping online and fake website advice:
You’ll find plenty of information about your online shopping rights as well as safe online shopping tips on ECC Ireland’s website here.
Consumer query of the month:
Question: I purchased two dresses from a company in Northern Ireland earlier this year through the trader’s website. The dresses were meant to arrive around 10 working days later. However, one dress arrived two months later after constant emails looking for my order. The other dress still has not arrived. I have asked for a full refund on the second dress but keep getting fobbed off by them asking for information on my order which I have provided numerous times. Also this website does not allow you to get a refund from their online shop. Can you help me?
Answer: Please note that under Article 18 of Directive 2011/83/EU on consumer rights, unless the parties have agreed otherwise on the time of delivery, the trader shall deliver the goods by transferring the physical possession or control of the goods to the consumer without undue delay, but not later than 30 days from the conclusion of the contract. Where the trader fails to deliver the goods within this timeframe, the consumer is required to call upon the trader to arrange for a reasonable additional period of time appropriate to the circumstances. If the trader fails to deliver the goods within that additional period of time, the consumer is then entitled to terminate the contract. Furthermore, upon termination of the contract, the trader shall, without undue delay, reimburse all sums paid under the contract.
Please also note that article 9(2)(b) of the said Directive makes reference to multiple goods purchased in one order but delivered separately. In particular, it provides that in these cases, the so-called cooling-off period within which the consumer is entitled to cancel a distance contract expires after 14 days from the day on which the consumer acquires physical possession of the last item. This means that consumers retain the right the cancel the entire order if one or more items ordered at the same time are not delivered and the cooling-off period in such cases is calculated taken into account the delivery of the last item.
It is also important to note that contractual terms which directly or indirectly waive or restrict consumer statutory rights are generally not binding on the consumer. Therefore, if the company has failed to deliver the goods for the agreed time of delivery and if you have given them a reasonable additional period of time to deliver the goods, you are entitled to cancel the contract and request a full refund. I would recommend contacting the company one last time, outlining the above legislation, while also including your relevant order information and informing them that if this matter is not resolved amicably and without further delay, you will have no other option than to seek further assistance from the European Consumer Centre.
Consumer success story of the month:
An Irish consumer placed an order online with a UK trader but she changed her mind shortly after and decided to cancel. The consumer informed the trader that she no longer wanted to purchase the items requested and asked to cancel the order. A few days later, however, the trader proceeded with the order and dispatched the goods to the consumer. When the goods arrived, the consumer instructed the courier to send the package back to the trader and notified the latter of this. The trader initially agreed to refund the consumer upon receipt of the returned merchandise but, despite a number of enquiries after, the consumer found it increasingly difficult to maintain contact with the trader and, ultimately, secure the refund.
In light of the situation, the consumer sought assistance from ECC Ireland, which in turn referred the matter to our UK counterparts with a view to contacting the trader on behalf of the consumer. The trader was then reminded of their obligations under the Consumer Rights Directive 2011/83/EU and the refund was processed within less than two weeks.
Press and Communications Officer
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.
© 2016 – European Consumer Centre (Ireland) Ltd, MACRO Centre, 1 Green Street, Dublin 7. Company limited by guarantee in Ireland, No. 367035 – Registered Charity No. 20048617 – CHY14708.
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.