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Dublin: 9 °C Tuesday 23 April, 2019

9 things you should know about online shopping (from a consumer rights expert)

Buy something on Black Friday? Here’s how to return it if needs be.

norbert-levajsics-243763 Source: Unsplash

WITH MANY OF the world’s biggest brands opting to jump onboard the Black Friday/Cyber Monday bandwagon, it’s never been a more popular time to shop online.

Although it means that we can conveniently make purchases from almost anywhere in the world at any time, it also minimises the ability to see, touch, and try on our purchases before we buy.

So when things go wrong in a digital store, where does that leave us? Are we doomed to accept something bought in a sale? Should we have to pay the return postage?

We spoke to Áine Carroll, Director of Communications and Market Insights at the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) to clarify our online shopping rights once and for all.

1. You have more rights online than offline

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Ever bought something and changed your mind once you got it home? While offline you do not have any rights under consumer law, the laws are a lot tighter online, says Áine:

Your rights under EU law are very strong. If it’s bought from a website in the EU, you have a 14-day window to change your mind and ‘cancel’ the order. Then you have 14 days to return it. As for a refund, once the item has been received, the refund will be applied, which could take up to 14 days more.

If the business is located outside the EU, read the website terms and conditions carefully, and check what their returns policy is as you will be relying on this if there’s a problem and you need to send something back.

2. You’re entitled to a refund of postage costs

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One thing a lot of people don’t know is that you’re also entitled to be refunded for the delivery cost you paid when you ordered, if you do choose to return a product, says Áine:

You’ve a right to a refund of the standard delivery cost, from an EU-based website even for a change of mind. You may have to pay for the cost of returning it so the company is not out of pocket but they must refund you the original delivery cost that you paid, once they receive your return.

3. No sign of your package? You may have a right to cancel

If you’ve ordered something and there’s a serious delay with its arrival, you might be entitled to a refund, says Áine:

Under EU law, everything you order should be sent to you within 30 days, unless the seller gives you a specific alternative date. For example, if a website says if you order by 15th of December it will be delivered by Christmas, you would have a right to cancel the order if it didn’t arrive before then.

4. Try to buy from companies rather than individuals

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One situation where your rights aren’t so clear cut is when you’re buying from another individual, rather than a company, states Áine:

Auction sites like eBay are really interesting as it depends on the status of the seller. If you buy from a company your rights are exactly the same but if you buy from an individual then you don’t have any consumer rights. So it’s important to know whether you’re buying from a business or an individual.

The decision to buy from an individual is a personal one, but bear a few things in mind, warns Áine: “Consider how much it is, whether it’s possible that you might change your mind and what happens if there is a problem with the item.”

5. Be careful of hidden taxes from outside the EU

These strong laws unfortunately only cover businesses that are located within the EU – buying further afield can get a bit trickier, highlights Áine:

If you get things delivered from outside the EU, you have to pay relevant taxes. In the EU a business has to give you all of the information in terms of the total cost (including VAT) but outside the EU there is no obligation for a seller to provide you with this.

Be warned that you may also have to pay VAT at the post office when it arrives in order to get your goods if the value of the items plus shipping is €22 or more, and import charges on anything valued at €150 or more.

6. There are organisations to fight your corner

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Getting nowhere with an order you want to return? There are two sources of help, advises Áine:

If you’ve bought from a seller in the EU and are having trouble, you can contact the European Consumer Centre. There is one in every country in the EU and they can act on your behalf.

Alternatively, your bank might also be able to help:

Sometimes the most straightforward route is to contact your bank and say you want to go through the chargeback process (reverses the charge). This can’t be used for a change of mind – it’s for when the goods weren’t delivered, are faulty or the company has gone out of business.

7. Certain goods aren’t covered

These EU rights tend to only cover physical goods as opposed to digital goods, explains Áine:

In most cases, once you’ve downloaded digital content and started to use it, you can’t send it back. Similarly, if something is customised you can’t return it as they’re not going to be able to sell it again. This also applies to tickets for a specific event if you buy online, which are also exempt from these laws, unless the event is cancelled.

8. Your rights are not affected by sales

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Bought something you ended up hating during the madness of Black Friday? The fact that it was bought during a sale doesn’t matter, according to Áine:

When you’re buying online within the EU, it doesn’t make a difference if it was on sale. When you shop in the sales in a brick-and-mortar shop, you can’t assume that you’ll get a refund. When you buy online, you have the 14-day cancellation period so it’s really straightforward.

9. You need to do your research

One of the most dangerous things about online shopping is the possibility of scams, warns Áine:

If you’re buying from a site that you’ve never bought from before – find out where they’re located. If they have no physical address listed on their site, you should be wary as they are supposed to do this under EU law. If there’s no trace of it elsewhere online or if they’re only on Facebook, it’s probably very new and could be a copycat website.

Do you think shopping online inevitably brings you less rights than in-store? Actually EU laws give you strong protection when you buy online. Make sure you’re fully up to speed on what you’re entitled to by visiting the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission’s online shopping section before the next time you click-to-buy.

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