Top Ten Tips: Shopping online? Know your rights

ONLINE shopping records are likely to be shattered over the coming weeks as more people than ever before do their Christmas shopping using the internet. But while it may be convenient, buying online (and by phone) can present complications, particularly when any problems arise with purchases.

Richard Godden, a partner at Edinburgh solicitors McKay Norwell, gives his top tips on consumer rights related to “distance purchases”.

1 No quibble rights

Under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 consumers have a no-quibble right to cancel a “distance contract” (i.e. something ordered over the internet or phone or by post). This is defined as “any contract concerning goods or services concluded between a supplier and a consumer under an organised distance sales or service provision scheme run by the supplier who, for the purpose of the contract, makes exclusive use of one or more means of distance communication up to and including the moment at which the contract is concluded”.

2 Transparency rules

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Consumers must also be given the identity of the supplier (and, where the contract requires payment in advance, the supplier’s address); a description of the main characteristics of the goods or services; the price of the goods or services including all taxes; delivery costs where appropriate; the arrangements for payment, delivery or performance; and the existence of a right of cancellation, with a few minor exceptions.

3 Right to know

Under regulation 8, the supplier must give certain information to the buyer in writing, or some other durable medium, before the conclusion of the contract or in good time thereafter. The relevant information is mainly that there is a right of cancellation and how to exercise it, but also information about the identity of the supplier, delivery costs, price, description of the goods, arrangements for delivery etc.

4 Seven-day rule

On the premise that a supplier does comply with regulation 8 before the day on which the contract is concluded, the consumer effectively has only seven working days to cancel the contract.

5 Exclusions

The regulations usually apply only where the seller is a business and the buyer is not. Therefore they would probably not be valid if the consumer was buying from another private individual on eBay or similar website.

6 Quality by degree

Goods sold in the course of a business must be of satisfactory quality. The definition of what is and isn’t satisfactory will depend on several circumstances, but the most important factors are fitness for purpose, durability, appearance and finish, safety, and freedom from minor defects. Everything turns on the facts of the case. Anyone buying a very expensive brand is entitled to expect it to be perfect or nearly so, but the standard will be less exacting for a cheap item from stock.

7 Don’t dither

If the above standard is not achieved, the buyer can keep the goods and claim damages, or can return them and get his money back; but the goods cannot be returned after they’ve been “accepted”. In effect this means that you should reject faulty items as soon as you have had a reasonable opportunity to inspect them. Difficulties may arise if you delay too long, or if you carry on using them after the defects have been discovered. Agreeing to a repair does not necessarily mean that you have accepted the goods, but again this is a question of degree.

8 Recompense options

When goods do not conform to the description expected, the buyer can generally require the seller to repair or replace them within a reasonable period, at the latter’s expense and without inconvenience to the former. A vendor who fails to do that may be required to reduce the price of the item, or the buyer can cancel the contract and obtain damages, which may, or may not, be equal to the money spent.

9 Should I go to law?

In the majority of cases, unsatisfied buyers would be advised to try to reach an amicable settlement without going to law, particularly if the money equivalent is small in value. However, the law is always an option and some people may feel they require legal advice on this issue, even if they don’t want to go as far as taking the dispute to court.

10 Christmas and beyond

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Although most complaints crop up as a result of festive purchases, the same rules apply to all goods bought throughout the year and not just to delayed or unsatisfactory Christmas gifts.