Advice about shopping online
When purchasing items online it’s easy to get carried away when you see what you think is a bargain. But make sure you know where you are buying from and what your rights are before you part with your money, especially if the retailer is outside the EU.
Online shopping rights
If you are buying anything online, under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 you have 14 days cooling off period for changing your mind. You have up to 14 days to inform the retailer and 14 days from then to send back. There are some exceptions to this, such as bespoke items. Whether or not return postage has to be paid when you change your mind depends on the trader’s terms and conditions.
If you paid extra for speedier delivery and it wasn’t delivered on time, you are entitled to this cost back. If the item is faulty (regardless of whether it is a bespoke item) you should not have to pay return postage and you should be refunded the full cost of any postage paid for sending the item to you. These regulations were put into place in the UK under an EU Directive and therefore you have this cover for purchasing all items online within the EU.
Financial cover if you have problems getting a refund
If the item costs over a £100 and you pay by credit card you will also have cover under Section 75A of the Consumer Credit Act 1974, which is worldwide. Notify the credit card provider if you get no redress from the retailer.
For items paid for using your bank debit card you may be able to use Chargeback. It is a voluntary scheme based on scheme rules set by card issuers such as Mastercard and Visa.
You also have cover when shopping with PayPal. However, completing a credit card transaction through a third party payment service means that the credit card provider and the seller are no longer in a direct relationship, so are not equally liable. This applies therefore to services such as PayPal, Amazon Marketplace, Worldpay and Google Checkout. So you don’t have any credit card cover if you use these kind of services.
Rip Off Britain and shopping online
On the Pop Up segment of Rip Off Britain I heard the case of Kathy, who ordered a dress online but didn’t realise the website was based in, and the product would be delivered from, China. The dress was not as described and was of poor quality. The company would not refund the postage costs. Their website however does say that “However you need to pay the return shipping fee on your own if there is no quality issue.”
As there was a quality issue I advised Kathy it would be worth arguing again that it was of poor quality. I suggested sending an email and including a picture from the website alongside a picture of what was received, as evidence, plus a description of the differences between any description of the item and what was actually received. I don’t know whether she did this so I don’t know the outcome.
That’s all she could do. So take care when ordering online!
How to spot a non UK website
- The website only lists prices in US dollars or Euros.
- Look for terms and conditions of returns.
- Check for poor English. For example on this website in the “Rip Off Britain” case below was the grammatically incorrect phrase “item have stain”.
- Search for the return address.
- A website domain name is not always an indication of where the company is based. For example, a website address ending in .co.uk doesn’t necessarily mean the site is based in the UK.
Look out for the subscription traps
Be aware of the “free” and very cheap trials of subscriptions. Most, if not all, will ask for payment information when you sign up. Set yourself a reminder to cancel a day before the first payment is due.
Check the cancellation rights before signing up to anything but be aware that you may still be able to challenge these in certain circumstances.
Check that the site is genuine. The website address should begin with “https”, have a padlock symbol, a full correspondence address (not a PO box number) and any trade logos should be genuine. Also, search the Internet for reviews and check for warning signs like lots of grammatical errors or a domain name that uses a well-known brand/product but isn’t the official website or ends in .net or .org as these are rarely used for online shopping sites. You can also check who registered the domain via the com website.
What to do if you want to subscribe
If you are going to sign up to a subscription, try and use Direct Debit where possible. With Direct Debit, a company cannot change the regular payment amount unless it give you notice of how and when it will take it. This notice is usually 10 working days. Using a debit card or credit card is known as a Continuous Payment Authority which can be of varying amounts which can be changed without your consent.
When you cancel with the company, also inform your bank to ensure that the subscription payment is cancelled. You will then also be covered by the Direct Debit Guarantee, which ensures a full and immediate refund of the amount paid from your bank or building society if a mistake is made.
If you want to cancel a subscription
If you want to cancel, do so quickly and in writing so you have evidence. If you are prepared to discuss the matter because you want to haggle for example, telephone helpline numbers cannot cost the consumer more than the basic rate, so no 084 and 087 numbers. If companies do use these then they are in breach of the The Consumer Contract (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 and Ofcom regulations.
When writing to cancel, provide all details of the policy/memberships etc., dates of subscriptions and request that the cancellation is made with immediate effect. Name the laws above and describe how the company is in breach, if relevant.
How to spot fake reviews and find the honest ones
Only really take on board reviews where there are at least 5 entries so you can discount the top and bottom.
If someone is saying that an item has this great part and that superb element but the majority of the reviews say otherwise, be dubious!
Likewise, if someone says they find a product useless or similar and the majority of other reviews are positive, it’s likely to be fake. Not necessarily a paid for review, but a competitor or a troll, many of them exist on the Internet!
Check out the reviewer. Click on the reviewer and their other reviews, see if there are any similar patterns. Are they all 5*? Or all 1*?
If the reviewer has all their reviews hidden that is unusual. If they are leaving bad reviews it could well be a troll or a competitor
Look at dates. Lots in a short amount of time, particularly at point of launch or after lots of low scores.
Someone who undertakes honest reviews for companies such as bloggers will state that they were given the item for free.
Government action against online traps
On 20 June 2021 the Government finally published its consumer paper for consultation. It is titled Reforming Competition and Consumer Policy. This covers subscription traps, Alternative Dispute Resolution, reviews and consumer rights. The closing date for responses was 11.45am on 1 October 2021.
09/02/22 The CMA launched a brand-new campaign “The Online Rip-Off Tip-Off” to help shoppers spot and avoid misleading online practices that could result in them being ripped off.
Further help when complaining
If you need help with a purchase bought from within the EU you can contact the European Consumer Centre who should be able to assist you.
Your rights, mail order, online and deliveries for more information and help on problems with deliveries
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