Liam Croke: know your rights when buying online

Last year, as a nation we spent €1.4 billion buying goods online. And according to one survey just over 33% of us bought something online over the previous three month period.

Last year, as a nation we spent €1.4 billion buying goods online. And according to one survey just over 33% of us bought something online over the previous three month period.

The amount we spend is only going to increase into the future, but do we really know what our rights are when we buy online?

Some people are put off buying online because they think they will not be as protected as they would be if they bought an item in a shop but, in the majority of cases, your rights as a consumer are better if you buy online than in a shop.

There are two pieces of EU legislation which protect your rights as a consumer: the European Directive on Distance Selling and the EC (Protection of Consumers in respect of contracts made by means of distance communication) Regulations 2001.

Their aim is to ensure that consumers can expect exactly the same level of protection no matter where the supplier of the good they purchase from, once they are based in the European Union, European Economic Area (which is the EU, Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway) and or Switzerland.

Under both acts, the goods you buy online must be genuine and in good condition and working upon receipt of them, otherwise the retailer who sold them to you, is liable.

So, if you buy something online and are received by you in a standard that is not acceptable to you, you will be entitled to the repair of the good, a replacement, and/or refund.

Where you have to be very careful from a consumer protection point of view is if ordering from a website that is based outside the EU. That is unless you are comfortable that the company is very well-known/has a recognisable brand etc. Of course regardless of whether the company is well known or not, you need to familiarise yourself with their refund policies and warranties promised.

It doesn’t take that long to find out what your rights are so take the time out to find out what they are before you commit to anything.

Another thing to be on the look-out for is always to ensure that the locked padlock or unbroken key symbol is showing in your browser, when you are about to enter your credit card details.

The beginning of the online retailer’s internet address will change from “http” to “https” to indicate a connection is secure.

Just be on the look-out and be wary of sites where the https changes back to http when you have logged back on.

OK, so let’s assume you recently bought something from a website in the UK for example that you want to give as a present to someone at Christmas time.

The suppliers of the good have an obligation on their side to deliver the product to you within 30 days of when you placed the order unless they have agreed something else with you at the point of purchase.

And if the good is not delivered within the minimum agreed time period, they must inform you and you are then entitled to a refund within 30 days.

There is also another protection available for on line shoppers, which is known as the “cooling off” period.

This gives you the right to cancel an order for the good or service within seven days and this cooling off period for online sales starts on the date the contract is concluded.

During this time, you can cancel a “distance contract” without giving any reason to the web supplier you are buying it from.

Once you cancel the purchase within the cooling off period, the seller of the good again is obligated to reimburse you within 30 days.

If a website fails to provide written confirmation of the sale, the cooling off period is extended to three months from the date on which the goods were received.

The only cost you will incur in this cooling off period is that you will more than likely have to pay the cost of the returning the goods, that is unless they are faulty, different from the item you actually ordered, or not of a quality you are happy with.

If you wish to cancel your purchase, you must put it in writing by letter, fax or email.

Remember if it isn’t written down then it didn’t happen; always have that paper trail that you can refer to if you wish to return goods if a dispute ever arose.

Otherwise trying to recall and prove when you called the company, who you spoke to, what they said etc. will become quite difficult.

It is important to know as well, within this cooling off period, that if you were buying from a catalogue company for example online and using a credit facility provided by them that once you cancel the contract, any credit agreement you entered into will be cancelled as well.

It is important to get this in writing from the web supplier as well, just for your own records.

There are some purchases that you don’t have the right to cancel or return, and an example of some of these are if something that was custom made to your exact specifications, audio/video tapes or computer software whose seals have been broken, newspapers or magazines or gaming and lottery services.

In these fast moving times, it really is too easy to buy in haste and regret it later.

So please research on line purchases thoroughly so you know exactly what you are entering into. And if you want to be a smart consumer then you need to know your rights and be prepared to act on them – because the best form of defence, is knowing, what your rights are.