Know your rights when shopping online

When buying online, you have the same rights you do as when buying on the high street. But you also have some extra ones. Beth Adamson explains what they are.

Online shopping is worth about £50bn a year in Britain, of which around £6.4bn will be spent over Christmas, according to the Department for Business. With only a few days left until the big day, the number of people panic-buying will no doubt soar. But while online shopping is convenient and can save you money, almost 80% of online retailers are ignoring at least some of the rules put in place to protect consumers, according to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

Among the most common breaches are unfair restrictions on cancellations of orders. Other traps to watch out for include hidden booking or card charges, and time-limited offers that encourage impulse buying.

The OFT plans to "name and shame offenders next year", reports Ruki Sayid in the Daily Mirror. But before then, it's well worth knowing your online shopping rights. You have the same rights online as you do if you buy in the shops (these are specified in the Sale of Goods Act), but you also have some extra ones. So what are they?

As on the high street, anyone buying on the internet can expect a refund for faulty or poorly described goods. But if you're buying via the web, you are also allowed to return any product, no questions asked, within seven working days of receipt (although do get a proof-of-posting receipt from the Post Office to prove you sent it back on time). Obviously, this rule doesn't apply to perishable or tailor-made items, or software if you have broken the seal on the wrapping. The retailer's terms and conditions should say who pays for returning goods. If they don't, then the company has to pay.

This cooling-off period also applies to services such as upgrading a mobile phone contract, although if you have agreed that the service will start straight away you give up these cancellation rights.

As far as deliveries go, online retailers have up to 30 days to deliver goods, unless specifically agreed otherwise, before you can claim a refund. However, if pre-Christmas delivery is part of the deal, and specified in a confirmation email, reports the BBC, "you may have a claim in a small-claims court for breach of contract if it fails to arrive before 25 December". And if non-delivery means you have to buy goods at a higher price somewhere else, you may also be able to claim for the difference in price. But retailers may also write into their contracts that delays caused by extreme weather aren't covered.

If in doubt, or for more information, see Consumer Direct.

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