Shopping online offers great choice, value and convenience, and you have the same consumer rights as when shop on the high street. In fact, in many cases, your rights are even stronger: if you buy something online in the European Union, you are covered by EU consumer law. EU online shoppers enjoy a vast range of rights under EU consumer legislation including a cooling-off period, which gives you the freedom to change your mind after you have made a purchase. These rules don’t apply just to online shopping but also cover orders placed by phone or mail order.
You are only protected by consumer legislation when you purchase goods from a trader or a registered company, but not from a private individual. You should also bear in mind that, if you buy goods from a trader based outside the EU/EEA, European Union consumer legislation may not be applicable, so it is important to check all the relevant trader and contact details before placing an order.
If you are unfamiliar with the trader and you are not satisfied that they are based within the EU/EEA, you should exercise caution. Under European Union consumer legislation, traders are required to indicate their geographic address on the website on the online marketplace where they sell from. If you do not feel the postal address is genuine or there is no address at all, our advice is to purchase elsewhere.
These are your consumer rights when shopping online:
1. The right to change your mind
When you shop online you have the right to a “cooling-off” period of 14 calendar days where you can withdraw from the contract and return your purchases to the seller. You do not have to give any reason but bear in mind you may have to pay for the cost of returning the goods.
Please note however that some purchases are not covered by the cooling-off period – for instance, hotel bookings, car rental, travel tickets and other leisure services (if the contract applies to a specific date or period of performance) are specifically excluded from this provision.
Other exceptions include:
- Goods that are made to your specifications or that are clearly personalised
- Audio or video recordings or computer software that has been unsealed by the consumer e.g. DVDs, software installation CDs with the seal removed
- Services that have already begun, with the consumer’s agreement, before the end of the 14-working day period
- Goods that are liable to deteriorate or expire rapidly, e.g. perishable goods
- Gaming and lottery services
- Goods or services the price of which is dependent on fluctuations in the financial market and that cannot be controlled by the supplier.
Where a consumer exercises their right of withdrawal, the trader is obliged to refund them within 14 days.
2. The right to clear information
EU online sellers must provide you with detailed information, including their contact details, the main characteristics of the product or service and the total cost of the product, including all taxes and delivery charges.
Before the contract is concluded the trader must give you the following specific information in a clear manner:
- 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 it is 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 than one year.
3. The right to a refund for delayed or non-delivery
Your purchase should be delivered within 30 days unless you agree otherwise with the seller.
If the trader does not deliver the item(s) within the period of time agreed, the consumer may contact the trader and ask that the goods be delivered at a later, convenient date which is appropriate to the circumstances. If the trader fails to deliver the item(s) within this additional period, the consumer is then entitled to cancel the contract.
However, the consumer may cancel the contract after the 30-day period has expired if delivery during such period was essential, taking into account all the circumstances of the case (e.g. if a wedding dress was ordered but did not arrive in time for the wedding). This is also the case if the consumer had informed the trader, at the time of entering into the contract, that delivery by or on a specified date was essential. The consumer is also entitled to cancel the contract if the trader has stated unequivocally that it cannot or will not deliver the goods.
Where the contract is cancelled, the trader is obliged to refund the consumer any and all sums that have been paid under the contract. This refund must be provided within 14 days.
4. Right to redress for faulty goods
If an item you bought online turns out to be faulty or not as advertised, you have the same legal rights as if you had bought it in person in a store.
Under EU rules, any faults that become apparent within six months of the goods being delivered are presumed to have existed at the time of delivery. The trader may first offer the consumer a repair or replacement, but if this is not possible or turns out to be unsatisfactory, the consumer may then seek to rescind the contract and ask for a full refund. Refunds must be processed within 30 days.
The trader remains liable to the consumer for any faults that become apparent within two years of purchase – however, if a fault develops after the initial six-month period has already elapsed, the consumer may be asked to prove that the fault was not caused by misuse.
Here is a quick summary of your cross-border online shopping consumer rights:
Remember: If you shop from websites based outside the EU your European consumer rights will not apply and you may face unexpected customs and tax bills.
You can find out more about making the most of online shopping in the EU here:
You can find a full checklist of the best ways to shop online here:
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