Shopping on the Internet

As an online magazine, we are committed to supporting purchasing habits that lower environmental impact. So we say, shop local or use the internet. 50% of internet users are now going online everyday and a growing proportion see the internet as a valued research tool for making purchases. Shopping from home is wonderfully convenient, for busy people, less mobile people or people who work shifts, but many people still worry that if things go wrong, there’s just not the same redress as if the product came from a local shop.

The simple advice is “don’t worry”.

Solving disputes over internet shopping can even be easier than those with shops, as many e-tailers may be even more keen to please, recognising that poor feedback via an internet review can be a powerful weapon against them.

The law says that when you buy goods or services by post, telephone, fax or through the internet, from a business, you have the same rights as if you had bought them in a shop. In other words, the goods must be as described by the seller and must be of satisfactory quality. The goods must also be fit for their purpose, which means you must be able to use them for the purposes you would normally expect from this type of product.

So, for example, if you bought a brown fridge that turned out to be white, a game listed as for Windows 98 that turned out to be for XP only or a wool pullover that turned out to be viscose, it can be rejected.

The Distance Selling Regulations give you additional rights when you buy from home. You must receive clear information before you decide to buy, including the name of the seller and the price of the goods including any extras such as VAT or delivery charges. If you pay any money before the goods are delivered, the seller must give you their full postal address in writing – letter, fax, e-mail, or on their advert or website.

Also, in many cases you can cancel your order at any time up to seven working days after you received the goods and get your money back, although you might have to pay for the return of the goods. Exceptions include newspapers, software, audio or video recordings which have been unsealed, and goods that were made to order or are perishable.

You may also not be able to cancel if you have a service which you agree to have completed before the seven-day cancellation period is up.

Goods must be delivered within 30 days of your order unless you and the seller agreed otherwise. If the seller later finds they can’t deliver within this time, they must tell you and give you the option of cancelling and getting a full refund. For items you agree to have dispatched much more quickly, such as next-day delivery, it’s worth ensuring that you note the agreed timing and state “time is of the essence” on the order. This means you are only agreeing to buy the goods if the time criterion is met.

It’s worth using a credit card to pay online, as this will often give you additional rights if there’s non-delivery or a problem – normally the transaction has to come to more than £100. Credit card companies are often very useful allies in payment disputes, getting back your cash if you are entitled to it. Debit cards may have less protection in terms of joint liability for defective products, but will offer equal protection from fraud. If someone makes dishonest or fraudulent use of your payment card, you can cancel the payment and the card issuer must refund all the money to your account. But you must inform the company that issues the card as soon as you suspect that someone else is using the card.

If you receive goods you haven’t ordered, you should notify the sender and ask them to collect them – you don’t need to pay for the goods or send them back; it’s up to the company to arrange their return. But keep the goods safe for a reasonable period before finally notifying the company that if they’re not collected within a reasonable time, you will dispose of them.

The rules applying to e-commerce – that includes selling by email, on the internet, interactive TV, or by sending and receiving written information on a mobile phone – say you must, for example, be able to identify the trader who sent the message, and you must be given in a permanent, easily accessible way, the name of the trader, a postal address and an email address. The price of goods must state whether it includes tax and delivery costs. The trader usually has to provide a facility that allows you to identify and correct any errors that were made when inputting the order.

These rules cover traders in the UK and elsewhere in the EU. If the seller is based in a country outside the EU, your rights will depend on what the law says in that country.

In general, if you paid for the goods in advance and a seller goes out of business, you might get your money back if the seller is a member of the Mail Order Protection Scheme (MOPS) or the Periodical Publishers Association (PPA). A better bet is to pay by credit card and use the protection this offers.

If goods are faulty and you reject them promptly you don’t have to agree to a replacement or repair. If you have had the goods some time before you notice the fault you would normally have lost your right to a refund and would be entitled to have the goods replaced or repaired free of charge. The repair should be carried out within a reasonable time and restore the goods to a satisfactory condition.

If the goods cannot be replaced or repaired you would be entitled to either a full or a partial refund. If you have had the goods some time the seller may be entitled to offer you less than the purchase price to take into account the use you have had from them.

You may be entitled to compensation if the contract has been broken – for example, the goods don’t match their description or are not of satisfactory quality or fit for their purpose, or you have incurred additional expenses or inconvenience because of negligence or a breach of contract. Equally, you may be entitled to compensation if someone has been injured because the goods were unsafe. In this case, you should first take legal advice before accepting an offer of compensation.

One big fear about buying from home is what happens if goods are lost or damaged in transit. If you are buying from a business seller, as opposed to an individual, the seller is responsible for the risk of loss or damage in transit. If a contract term states that the consumer is responsible, that term may be unenforceable.


Published by

Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

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