Are my rights different when buying over the Internet compared with buying from a shop?

In most cases, your rights when buying from home (either over the internet or on the phone) are the same as those you enjoy when buying from a shop. In essence, these rights cover two main areas:

  • The way you are treated, the information you are provided with throughout the sale process and your right to a refund during a certain period after your purchase

  • Your right to reparation when things go wrong

It is very important to be aware, however, that these rights are only straightforward when buying online from within the UK. In addition, when buying from an auction, or from a private individual rather than a business, you have far fewer rights and less protection when things go wrong.

Do I have any extra rights when buying online?

Since buying online is different from buying in a shop, when you cannot actually see and touch the product, you have some additional rights. These include:

  • Access to easy to understand information about the product or service you want to buy, before you buy it

  • This same information in writing once you have made your purchase

  • A 14 day 'cooling off' period, during which you can cancel or reject any order without giving a specific reason but still get a full refund

  • A full refund if the goods you buy do not turn up on or before the agreed delivery date. If no date is agreed, then you can get a refund if your purchases are not with you in 30 days.

There are, of course, some exceptions, including:

  • Perishables - like flowers and food, goods that have been personalised and items like CDs, DVDs and Games wrapped in cellophane once they have been unwrapped

  • Financial products - such as insurance. Here you may have rights under the Financial Services Regulations 2004

  • Online auctions. If you are buying in this way, refer to the website's terms and conditions (specifically, 'dispute resolution') before you buy

  • The sale of land

What about when things go wrong?

Whenever you buy goods you, in effect, set up a legally binding contract between you and the seller. This contract is governed by the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which sets out your rights if a product you buy from a store (whether online or not) is not 'fit for purpose', becomes faulty, is not 'as described' by the vendor or is not of 'satisfactory quality':

  • As described means that the product should correspond to any description given before you made your purchase - covering everything from quantity and measurements to colour. The description could be on a website, made verbally or even on the product packaging

  • Satisfactory quality is a slightly 'woolly' term and potentially open to interpretation. However, the official line from the Citizens Advice Bureau is: "... goods that are of satisfactory quality are free from minor defects, have good appearance and finish and are durable, safe and fit for all the purposes for which such goods are commonly supplied."

As well as being fit for their general purpose (e.g. if you buy a printer, it should work properly), the law says that any product you buy must be fit for any specific purpose that you discussed with the seller before you bought (e.g. if you were advised that your printer would work with your computer).

If any goods you buy are not satisfactory, you may be able to make a claim up to six years after your purchase in England and Wales (five years in Scotland). You can usually claim for a refund, repair or replacement.

The Consumer Rights Act 2015 also covers any digital content (music downloads for example) you purchase, and you will have the right to a refund or replacement if they do not meet the above standards.

Remember that these rights do not apply if you simply change your mind about a product you have bought, or decide you do not like it.

How do I make a claim?

If the goods you buy are faulty you must return them to the seller within a reasonable period of time. That 'reasonable period' depends on the product - check the GOV.UK website for detailed guidance on different product areas.

Some other useful points to remember include:

  • The seller must provide a replacement, repair or refund within a reasonable amount of time and without causing you significant inconvenience

  • Your contract is with the seller, not the manufacturer. It is the seller's responsibility to deal with your claim

  • If you have paid more than 100 for your goods and used a credit card, your credit card provider is also liable for your claim (under the Consumer Credit Act). However, it is probably best to contact the seller, as this may see your claim settled more quickly

  • Your rights also apply to items bought in a sale - provided any faults were not made clear to you at the time of purchase

  • Similarly, your rights also apply to second hand goods, though issues around wear and tear or quality are harder to prove

  • You do not need to produce a receipt to claim a refund, repair or replacement

When should I make a claim?

As a general rule, it is always best to make your complaint as soon as a problem with your purchase becomes apparent. Official advice is to:

  • Send a letter of complaint to the seller by recorded delivery, keeping a copy for yourself

  • Keep copies of any replies you receive and any further letters you send

What happens if the seller denies the goods were faulty at the time of purchase?

If you claim within six months, the seller must prove that the goods were not faulty. After six months things become a bit trickier, and you may have to get a report from an independent expert to prove your case. However, you should only need to do this if your complaint letter gets nowhere.

What if my goods do not turn up?

It is the retailer's responsibility to make sure purchases reach you, the customer. This means that you can contact the courier (if applicable) to find out if they are still trying to deliver your item, but any complaints should be directed to the store itself.

Under The Sales of Goods Act the retailer has a "reasonable" amount of time to deliver your order. How long exactly depends on what you have ordered and how long you were told delivery would take, you can usually find this on your Order Confirmation email, alongside any terms and conditions.

If they do not state how long it will be until your item is delivered, it should take no more than 30 days. If they estimate delivery will take 5 days and it has not arrived on the 6th you may have to wait a little while longer.

Can Section 75 help you?

If your purchase was between 100 and 30,000 and you paid by credit card, your card provider is equally as liable as the retailer for making sure you receive the item, under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

If you paid under 100 by credit card, or any amount by debit card, you may be entitled to some Chargeback protection depending on your card issuer's policy.

What if the seller still refuses to recognise my claim?

If you have been through the steps outlined above and the value of the claim does not exceed 5,000, you can file a claim with the small claims court. This is quite inexpensive, and you will not need a solicitor.

If your claim is for more than 5,000, you will need to talk to a solicitor about pursuing your claim further. It is, however, quite unusual for any claim under the Sale of Goods Act to reach this stage. Read, Shopping: what are my rights for details.

What if I have bought goods from abroad over the Internet?

If you have a problem with goods bought from overseas, you will need to contact the body overseeing your rights in that country. As a general rule you should still use a credit card when you buy goods from overseas online, since this provides you with added protection under the Consumer Credit Act.