What to do when online shopping goes wrong

With Christmas a few weeks away, many of us will be making last-minute online purchases. PC Advisor explains the selling regulations that exist to protect your purchase, and what to do if you are unhappy with a product you have purchased over the web.

The purchase of goods and services over the internet, by phone or mail order, is subject to the same consumer rights as if you had bought the item on the high street. However, because you weren’t physically face-to-face with the supplier, these purchases are also subject to Distance Selling Regulations. In Canada, you can get information on how to handle mail order transaction and online shopping issues from the Canadian Consumer Information Gateway or the Consumer Handbook of Canada.

If no date is specified, delivery of goods or the commencement of a service must occur within 30 days of the order being placed. If the goods don’t arrive in this period, you are within your rights to cancel the order and demand a full refund.

Related story –Perils and Pitfalls of Buying Technology Online

Fit for purpose

All purchased goods are required to “conform to contract”. They must be as described, fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality – in other words, not inherently faulty at the time of sale. It is the seller, not the manufacturer, who is responsible when goods do not conform to contract. A consumer is then able to request a repair or replacement.

If the goods are faulty, incorrectly described or not fit for purpose, then you are entitled to your money back – provided that you act quickly. You don’t have to accept a credit note.

How to shop safely online

If the retailer claims that a repair is “disproportionately costly” and insists on a replacement, you must accept this decision. If, on the other hand, a replacement is said to be “disproportionately costly”, you must accept a repair. Remember that any remedy must be carried out “without significant inconvenience” and within a “reasonable time” for the consumer.

You could, of course, seek damages instead.

“All goods should last six years”. Not true. Six years is the time limit for bringing a court case against a retailer in England and Wales. In Scotland, you are required to do so within five years of the time of discovery.

An item only needs to last as long as is reasonably expected, taking all factors into account. For example, an oil filter wouldn’t usually last longer than a year, but that wouldn’t mean it was unsatisfactory.

Online pucrchases are typically covered by a contract. If the seller fails to honour the contract, buyers can claim costs from the credit-card company.

You can find Canadian credit card regulations protecting consumers here.

Goods remain at the seller’s risk until they are delivered to the consumer. Thus, the supplier is liable should the goods not arrive.

What if there’s a problem?

First, ask the supplier to put things right. Put your complaint in writing.

If you want to give an item back and get your money back, you have the right to ‘reject’ an item that is not of ‘satisfactory quality’. But you must act quickly: you have only a limited time – usually a few weeks – to reject something.

Provisions regarding rejection of delivered goods can be found in the the Ontario Sales of Goods Act.

If something is not of ‘satisfactory quality’, you have the right to have it replaced or repaired free.

You can ask the retailer to do either, but it is allowed to choose the cheaper option.

If the retailer refuses to repair the goods, you may have the right to arrange for someone else to repair it and then claim compensation from the retailer.

If it can neither repair or replace the item, you can either have your money back minus an amount for the use you have had of it, or keep the item and get a reduction on the price you paid.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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