With the increased use of the internet, shopping is becoming a truly global experience, with more and more consumers turning to their computers to buy things like software, CDs and books. Like mail order, people appreciate the convenience of not having to walk around the shops, and can browse among a huge choice of goods in their own time.
Your rights when buying over the internet are the same as when you buy goods from the high street. However, you may also have additional rights under The Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000.
Shopping on the internet can bring its own problems.
Top ten tips for safer on-line shopping
- Be careful when you give your credit or debit card details on the internet. Always find out whether the company has a secure site by looking for the closed padlock sign at the bottom of the screen, and look for information about the protection the company has put in place.
- The trader must give their name and a geographical address, not just a PO Box number, and not just their e-mail address. They must also fully describe the goods for sale and orders must be confirmed in writing.
- As with any other type of purchase, shop around for the best deals and prices. In most cases, you are entitled to a seven working day cancellation period where you can change your mind, but this usually does not apply to 'auction' sites. You should always read the terms and conditions carefully before buying.
- Watch out for high postage rates and for other hidden costs, such as VAT and other duty payable, particularly if goods are being sent from abroad. Try to get personal recommendations for companies you have not done business with before.
- Remember, goods being sent from abroad may take some time to be delivered. Check with the trader how long this will take, and set a delivery date that you must have them by, if that is important. Where no delivery date has been agreed, delivery must be within thirty days. Goods and services ordered from UK and European Countries will be covered by the 'Distance Selling' Regulations.
- Check what the company’s policy is on returning goods that you don’t like or have changed your mind about, and find out who pays for the return postage. If they have come from abroad, you may be faced with a hefty postage bill to return them. Refunds must be made within thirty days.
- On the subject of buying from abroad, remember that if you have problems such as faulty goods or non-delivery, it might be very difficult to get your complaint dealt with. Although your contract will probably be covered by UK law - allowing you to sue in your local court - getting money out of a company based abroad may be impractical. If possible, pay by credit card as this may give you additional protection in some circumstances.
- For that reason, be wary of buying very expensive items from companies outside the UK or Europe unless you know them well - that way, if things do go wrong, you limit the risk.
- Most importantly, print out the order, and keep any terms and conditions that appear on the web site, just in case of any disputes or problems later on.
Internet auction sites
These sites are becoming increasingly popular. Many people who advertise goods on this type of site are private sellers. Your rights against a private seller are considerably reduced and are the same as if you answered an ad in your local paper. It is very much ‘buyer beware’ regarding the quality of the goods, but the goods must still be as described. On an internet site, it may be difficult to find out who you are dealing with.
The obligation that the auction website has to you is likely to be limited. Some auction websites offer complaint resolution services or protection against fraud in some circumstances. Not all do, so read the terms and conditions carefully.
Top ten tips for buying on internet auction sites
- Carefully read the auction house terms and conditions, and make sure that you understand them properly.
- Take some time to watch how the auctions for similar items develop before bidding for any item yourself. This can give you an idea of the prices sellers are asking for certain items and how much buyers are prepared to bid.
- Look at the feedback ratings of the people you are dealing with. Be cautious of dealing with people who have no feedback or a high level of negative feedback. On the other hand, feedback ratings can be falsified, so be sceptical and use your common sense.
- Check what items they have bought and sold themselves, and see if this history fits with what they are looking to sell to you. For example, if there are a large number of very inexpensive items listed on the person’s record as sold, ask yourself why they may now be offering to sell an item of great value.
- When you find an item you wish to bid on, read the description very carefully. Satisfy yourself that the item is what you want and that you understand exactly what you will be buying. Look carefully at any photographs posted as part of the description. Has the seller lifted the photos from elsewhere on the Internet, or are they of the actual item on sale? Keep a record of the page of information that has been posted by the seller.
- Use the "Ask Seller a Question" facility before you place a bid if you are in any doubt about the item. Good communication can prevent misunderstanding on both sides. Ask the seller to send you more photographs of the item, perhaps a picture of the item with a copy of today’s newspaper. Ask about the seller’s returns policy if you are dissatisfied with the goods. Keep a copy of any emails.
- Set yourself a strict financial limit for the purchase. Don’t forget to account for postage or delivery costs, and clarify these beforehand with the seller if it is not clearly stated in advance. Remember that by bidding you are entering a legal contract to purchase the item if your bid should win. Bid up to your limit but think very carefully before you bid over. It’s easy to get carried away and pay more than you really want to.
- If you are lucky enough to win the auction, make prompt contact with the seller. Ask about the timescale for delivery of the item to you. Check the seller’s postcode matches the declared contact address, for example by using the internet sites www.postcodefinder.co.uk or www.multimap.com
- Use a secure method of payment such as PayPal, where the money is deposited in a third party’s account before it reaches the seller. There are built-in safeguards with PayPal to protect your payments and to resolve any disputes which may arise. Do not under any circumstances send cash, and do not agree to transfer the money to the seller’s own bank account. This could potentially result in you hearing nothing further from the seller.
- If a dispute does arise, your first step should be to contact the seller. Keep copies of all emails sent and received in the course of your correspondence. Keep calm and polite, but assertive in your negotiations and most genuine sellers will be able to offer a satisfactory resolution to your complaint. Use the PayPal system to resolve disputes if necessary.
This information is only for guidance.If you need advice on your legal rights please contact Citizens Advice Consumer Advice Service on 0845 4 040506 or visit the UK European Consumer Centre website.
The links on this page are provided purely for your convenience and do not imply that Shropshire Council endorses or supports these organisations, the information on their pages, or their products and services in any way.Last updated 18 January 2013 Print this page