Stand up for your rights when buying on the net
UK SHOPPERS currently spend, on average, 25% of their disposal income online – whether buying their groceries from Tesco Direct, purchasing cutprice books and CDs on Amazon or hunting down bargains on eBay.
While the online marketplace continues to grow in popularity, many consumers and retailers are unaware of their rights or obligations under European Distance Selling Regulations (DSRs). These apply to the sale of goods and services where the buyer and seller do not meet face-to-face, including most purchases made over the internet, by phone, via digital television or by mail order.
A recent study by the European Union found that 57% of shoppers who bought products from other EU countries struggled to get their delivery costs reimbursed when they returned items – even though, by law, retailers are obliged to offer a full refund (provided that the seller receives written notification of the consumer’s wish to cancel within a seven-day “cooling-off period” after the goods are received).
The DSRs were introduced for good reason. When purchases are made in-store, the consumer can see, feel and consider the quality of the goods. With distance selling, buyers cannot inspect the goods before purchase. The DSRs therefore provide additional rights and protection to encourage consumer confidence in e-commerce. The regulations apply across the EU, though some countries offer a level of consumer protection that is higher than the minimum standards set out in the regulations.
While DSRs apply to most purchases, they do not apply to certain types of contracts including financial services such as insurance or banking; business-to-business transactions or purchases concluded by auction including online and interactive TV auctions. While auctions on eBay.co.uk are not covered, ‘Buy It Now’ listings and ‘Second Chance Offers’ are.
Under the DSRs, retailers are required to provide information including their location, details of the goods or services and terms of the sale, including the price, delivery costs, any tax that applies and details of who bears the cost for returning cancelled goods. Consumers should receive delivery of the goods or performance of the service within 30 days of placing their order.Shoppers have a right to change their minds within a “cooling- off period,” normally seven days after receipt of goods or, for services, seven working days from the conclusion of contract.
They do not need to give any reason but must notify the seller in writing of their decision to cancel. This can be done by letter, email or fax. If the seller has failed to provide the required information listed above, then the customer is entitled to an extended cancellation period of three months and seven working days from receipt of goods. Consumers should always keep proof of postage when returning goods.
Sellers are obliged to refund in full the cost of the goods or service, including any delivery charges within 30 days of cancellation.
The consumer can be asked to return the goods at their own expense, but only if the seller specified this before the contract was made; otherwise, the seller is responsible for collecting the goods or paying the return postage costs. If the goods are faulty then the seller must pay for their return.
There are, however, some exceptions to this cancellation right. It does not apply to sealed CDs, videos or software that have been opened; perishable goods such as fresh food or flowers; items that have been made to order; or accommodation, transport, catering or leisure services (including hotel accommodation, travel bookings and concert tickets), where they are supplied on a specific date or for a specific period.
In the event of a dispute, consumers should contact their local authority trading standards department. Trading standards departments and the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) are responsible for enforcing the regulations in the UK and have the power to take enforcement action through the courts against businesses that breach the regulations. Although the OFT cannot intervene in individual disputes, trading standards may decide to investigate a consumer’s complaints and pass it to the OFT to take further action against the seller.
l Catherine Feechan is a partner in the corporate team at law firm Brodies LLP
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 11 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West