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back to article UK shoppers ignorant of online rights

UK web users are Europe's biggest online shoppers but are not aware of their consumer rights when it comes to e-commerce, a government survey has found. UK shoppers spent £38bn online in 2009, 10 per cent of the total amount spent overall, making them the European Union's biggest online spenders, according to figures from the …


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You pay up front, therefore try getting *ANYTHING* back is tough with certain suppliers.

Re-shelving fees of 30% were what stopped me using ebuyer....

Its not the lack of knowing your rights, its the cost of enforcing them if you have to!


Re: Rubbish!

Speaking as a seller myself, I find it hard to understand why people find it so hard to enforce their rights - I'm all to aware how little power an ecommerce retailer actually has, even from people who are actually abusing the system.

If you are a consumer (ie not a business) then you have an absolute right to a full refund within 7 days of receiving the goods (apart from a few excluded items). Seller refuses this? Tell them you will do a chargeback through your card issuer. Still won't budge? Do the chargeback, you'll win.


Don't forget postage

You may also be entitled to a refund of the cost of return postage if incorrect or faulty goods are despatched.

Though it's a bit of a mute point if the various numpties in royal mail manage to "lose" the package.


It's worst that nat, Jim...

Many (most?) e-commerce websites are also in breach of the rules because they are supposed to make this, and similar information, available to their customers.

Actually, (if I remember this correctly), the 7 day period does not start until the seller makes the purchaser aware of this right. So, if the website doesn't make this clear (which it should by law), then the 7 day period is extended (in theory) indefinitely (I'm sure there's a cut-off, but I can't remember the exact details).

Many websites also do not give a proper postal address (only a PO box number) which is illegal. Many websites (especially the larger ones!) do not give a telephone number - again - this is illegal.

The DTI website has a very simple and explicit guide of what sellers must include on their websites. Unfortunately, this whole business is very badly policed and far more should be done to toughen-up on infringing websites.



Its been a little while since I read the UK Distance Selling Regulations (I do work in ecommerce), but IIRC if you don't make it clear on your site that the consumer has a right of cancellation, the consumer automatically gets a 28 day cooling off period.

If you explicitly state these rights, you can reduce that period to a minimum of 7 days.


@mike2R - Not quite right

If you do not tell the customer, in writing, about the 7 day cooling off period, it runs from the day the customer is made aware - even if that is 3 months after the initial purchase! You also have to state if the customer is responsible for the return postage during this period as well.

I always put a notice in with any item I ship which has been purchased over the internet stating the information required by the DSR, plus in the order confirmation email.

Haven't been stung too often by people who buy items then use the DSR to return them, thankfully.

Thumb Down

In my direct experience...

... most online retailers don't know my rights either. The Sale of Goods Act is a closed book to many of them, let alone Distance Selling Regulations. Though it's not always ignorance so much as avoidance.

Jobs Horns

Its not just the buyers

Many sellers, especially business sellers on ebay, don't know their legal obligations and have blatantly illegal terms and conditions.

OFT and Trading standards aren't helping a lot here. They do try to inform buyers of their *additional* rights to return unwanted goods, but explain that the seller can (if they make the right statements) require return carriage to be paid.

What they fail to adequately state is that Sale of Goods Act rights apply too, and that a seller cannot make the buyer pay return postage of DEFECTIVE OR INCORRECT goods, even if they have said they will for the return of purely-unwanted goods. The buyer can instead notify rejection of the goods, and the seller is entitled to collect if they wish, but the seller has to refund whether or not they collect the goods.

Nor can they make the buyer responsible for loss or damage in transit, Sellers are 100% responsible for loss or damage of goods in transit to a consumer.

Ebay of course takes no notice of reports, but there's no legal obligation on ebay to ensure its sellers don't make unlawful statements in their listings. Its Trading Standards not ebay that needs to be enforcing UK law.

A good start would be for OFT to set up a web site where buyers could report web sites with unlawful restrictions such as the above. Prosecution shouldn't usually be necessary. Instead, enforcers should check the site contains the stated phrase, confirm that the phrase is unlawful and notify the site owner of the problem -- initially by email, with a follow-up by recorded delivery if the offending content hasn't been removed. A sample of persistent offenders would need to be prosecuted as a deterrent to others, but in the common case (that the seller doesn't understand the law) it would achieve its aim with just a few minutes of the enforcer's time.


"Re-Stocking Fees"

The biggest reason for people not returning items.

"Yes you can return an item if you don't want it, an administrative charge of £X / xx% of total cost will be made for each item."

Under the DSR, if you return an item within the "cooling off period", no restocking fee may be charged. (However, you are still liable for the original delivery costs to yourself, and paying for return costs to the retailer - you only get a refund for the item cost)

Very badly documented area, with many retailers doing their best to mislead their customers.


Almost right

the DSR entitles the customer to a refund of both the cost of the item AND the initial delivery charge within the 7 day cooling off period. The seller is responsible for the return costs by default UNLESS they have stated the customer is responsible.

No administration fee is allowed if the seller is notified IN WRITING (by post or email) within 7 days starting from the day after the day the item is delivered.


Re-stocking fees

I recently bought a webcam (new, Buy It Now) from Ebay and was seriously disappointed - dreadful build quality (corrosion hidden under a foam pad on the base and shonky marked plastic) and the image was dire. So I sent it back the same day and the seller fully intended to charge a 30% restocking fee. I obviously had a few problems with that:

1) 'Buy it now' sales (as opposed to standard auctions) on EBay are protected by the distance selling regulations.

2) I'm pretty sure the DSRs don't allow for re-stocking fees

3) 30% seems like a hell of a lot

4) Even if restocking fees are valid I can't see why they should be charged as a percentage of the price of the goods.

Anyway, it would be nice to be able to point to an authoritative source that explicitly states that re-stocking fees are a no-no.


all shopping sites try it on

Check the refund policy on your favourite shopping site, chances are they contradict the distance selling regulations.

Take Amazon: "We can only accept the return of opened items if they are faulty. Please note that we reserve the right to send back items to you that have been returned to us after 30 days unless they are faulty."

Bzzzzzt!! wrong ... you can open the item, play with it, try it out - the whole point of the regulations are that you cannot see the item and try it out like in a shop, therefore you get the chance to do this at home for 7 days. You just have to take reasonable care of the item and return it in working condition.

The shops usually assert that they cannot resell opened goods as new and therefore you cannot return them. This is *not* your problem as a consumer.

(some items are excepted of course: CD's/DVD's/software/underwear etc)



If you look further down the page there are a number of links, follow the 'Your Statutary Rights" one and you get the following:

"By law, customers in the European Union also have the right to withdraw from the purchase of an item within seven working days of the day after the date the item is delivered. This applies to all of our products except for digital items (eg: e-Books) where the item has been downloaded. We regret that we also cannot accept cancellations of contracts for the purchase of video, DVD, audio, video games, Sex and Sensuality products and software products where the item has been unsealed.

"To cancel your purchase within the seven-working-day cooling-off period, please visit our Returns Support Centre and print out a personalised return label for your item, giving the reason for the return as "I just don't want it anymore". Please package the relevant item securely and send it to us using the personalised return label within 30 days following the date that the item was delivered to you."

To be honest, picking out Amazon for an example of bad return handling is pretty ridiculous. Amazon are well known for being one of the best around in this area. My main complaint against them is that they have got people used to service well above their legal rights :)

I've had several conversations with customers wanting to return something on a no-fault basis well outside their legal entitlement that have gone something like:

"Well Amazon let me do this!"

"Yes sir, you may have noticed that we are not Amazon."


re: amazon

That's the whole point of the original article, most buyers don't "look further down the page" - they wouldn't need to bother looking at returns policies in the first place if they knew exactly what their rights are, and they had the confidence to enforce them rigorously.

Silver badge

Less ignorance please

Some online retailers try to cheat. One tried to convince me that a mother board that died within two weeks was not covered by the statutory 12 month warranty because I had not bought an extended warranty. Another tried to tell me I was stuffed because I bought 400MHz memory when his chart said I needed to pay extra for 333MHz. He did not give up until I asked him why one of a pair of matched SODIMMs worked fine by itself but the other did not.

One conversation like this is sufficient to loose a supplier all my business, most of my friends business and probably my employers' too. I assume that they do this anyway because they unload so much broken kit onto ignorant customers that they do not care when people with a clue take their friends elsewhere.


Don't think so!!!!!

From personal experience....Retailers know a heck of a lot less than their customers about buyers' rights and Government Agencies are no help in supporting customers either.

Anonymous Coward

Or pretend to...

It's not all that long since I had to involve local Trading Standards to try and get Tescos to accept return and refund on a month-old mobile phone that had given up the ghost. According to them a repair was all they were obliged to offer. Trading Standards mumbled something about 'gray area' and a repair was all I got.

Now there's no way on earth a retailer like Tescos aren't 100% aware of any and all appropriate consumer legislation. And when a firm their size tries it on, they must think they can get away with it... Clearly, my experience proves them right...


Maybe the Register ...

... could try to prise an official response from the OFT about :

a) confirming the facts as stated by multiple posters here

b) agreeing that it is the SELLERS who are demonstrating more ignorance than their buyers

c) saying what the OFT intends to actually *DO* about it, because there is at the moment no official body actively eradicating these misleading statements from web pages, whether on the seller's own site or a third party such as ebay.


Grey areas in your favour

The biggest grey area phrase is "reasonable amount of time". That is if you bought product XYZ and it is not fit for purpose you can return it in a "reasonable amount of time". This varies depending upon the object. Buying a PC, you can try it and then send it back, say within 14 days, that's reasonable, 6 months is not. If you bought a pair of skis in May during a sale, but never got to use them until November, they then failed to work correctly, you can still take them back, because in the case of the skis, you have not been able to use them during the Summer so first reasonable use would be Winter time.

Since buying things online, I have become a lot more savvy about DSR rules and regs. Any barrow-boy can set up a web shop-front and start turning a profit, as a consumer you have to get savvy else you're going to get turned over.

If you pay by cards, your card issuer has an awful lot of legal muscle which your monthly card ownership fee ( if you pay one ) and interest charges pay for, use it! I have often invoked my credit card company's legal arm to get something sorted. You fight for a week or two with no response, you get card company on it and you tend to get results in hours, not days!

European regs are pretty strong, the 14 day regs, "if for any reason you don't want it, send it back". Lots of retailers don't even know about it, demanding a reason for return is bollocks! Under European DSR I can send any fully working product back inside 14 days and do NOT have to give any reason whatsoever, I may be liable to a postage charge, but nothing else.

Restocking fee? My hairy one! I fought 2 hours on a phone with a well known high-street furniture company about a restocking fee. £1500 item and they wanted 50% restocking fee! I said "Where does it say on the agreement I signed, that I pay a restocking fee if I refuse it?". The chimp on the phone said, "I doesn't have to say it on the agreement, it just applies." LIke f**k does it!!! LISTEN CHIMPY, IT'S A LEGALLY BINDING CONTRACT BETWEEN ME YOU LOT, IT HAS TO STATE OUR OBLIGATIONS TO EACH OTHER IN THE EVENT OF A DISPUTE LIKE THIS!!!! I eventually ended up ranting to their head office before it got waived and I got it sorted and I simply paid £30 send it back.

If all else fails and the sum is relatively small, you have the Small Claims Court at your disposal. You will not be liable for costs at the SCC, the retailer is 100% liable for costs. Last time I looked the SCC can be used for sums like £25-£500 claims, owness on the retailer/supplier.

Check out the various consumer sites, you would not believe how many rights you as a consumer actually have! I am not a trouble maker, I just don't like having someone trying to pull a fast one on me when I know I am in the right.

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