Shopping online is often cheaper and more convenient than shopping on your local high street. You can also find some products online which are not available in the shops. But for you and the millions of online shoppers in the UK, it's vital to know your rights and trust your retailer. Hopefully this guide will help you to shop securely and safely online.
WHERE TO START.
Some large companies are well-known online-only retailers. But if you haven't heard of the company, search for them on www.shopsafe.co.uk which lists only shops that offer secure credit card transactions, clear delivery prices and returns policies. If you are still uncertain about a company find the company's telephone number and address in the Contact Us section and give them a call or email them.
HOW TO BUY.
Many products will be illustrated by a photograph, but with products such as clothes, colours can vary a great deal. They should also come with dimensions, or ISBN numbers for books so that you know you are getting the exact product you want. Many sites will include customer reviews which can be useful. But there is nothing to stop the manufacturer from posting a glowing review. You will then be asked to proceed to a secure checkout where you will also be asked to register with an email address and password and a delivery address. You will be asked to choose a delivery option and you must, by law, get the chance to review your order before payment.
The next stage will usually ask you to give payment details for your credit or debit card. You will be moved to a secure part of the website that only you can see. Check that there is a padlock sign on the top or bottom of your browser window and that the site address begins https, not http. You can also sign up to secure third party payment services such as PayPal which allows you to send or receive payments securely over the web without sharing your financial details or credit card number with anyone else. Internet bank Cahoot offers a "Webcard" available from internet bank Cahoot, which generates a unique code each time you pay for something and gives the buyer extra security. Sometimes a company will allow you to send a cheque but your delivery will take much longer as the company will want to clear the cheque before despatching the order. Always print out the details of your order. This will act as proof of purchase before the company sends you a proper receipt online. The retailer should acknowledge your order, but check what the email says. If it confirms acceptance of your order, you have a legally binding contract, however, if it just acknowledges your order (perhaps because the seller needs to check whether the item is in stock), you don't.
DELIVERY AND RETURNS.
Many sites will give you the choice of paying a premium rate for next day delivery and a cheaper, but longer period for standard delivery. Many sites will also allow you to track your order online and will email you when the products have been dispatched. If the goods cannot be signed for at the delivery address, they may be taken to a courier or Royal Mail depot. If the terms and conditions do not state who is liable to pay the postage on returned goods, then the seller has to pay.
The majority of sites gather information about you every time you shop online using a "cookie" which is a text file stored on your computer to keep track of what you have in your basket and it will remember you when you return to the site.
Online shoppers are protected by extra legislation under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 in recognition that genuine mistakes in placing orders are more easily made online or that the product isn't what you expected because you haven't seen it. This gives consumers a seven-day cooling off period starting from the day you receive the goods during which you can cancel the order without giving a reason. Some retailers offer a longer cooling-off period. But you cannot return CDs, DVDs or software if you've broken the seal on the wrapping, perishable items such as food and flowers and tailor-made or personalised goods. With services, such as mobile phone contracts, the seven working days start from the day after you agree the contract. Other statutory rights apply online as they do in the high street under the Sale of Goods Act which says that items must be 'fit for the purpose', as described, and of satisfactory quality. So if your new DVD player doesn't work or you've been sent the wrong sized shoes, you should be able to ask for a refund on faulty goods or exchange for the wrong style without any quibbling. If you pay by credit card and spend between £100 and £30,000 you are protected by the Consumer Credit Act, which means you can claim from either the trader or your credit card provider if anything goes wrong. However, your rights will only apply if the company is based in the UK or EU. The suffix co.uk doesn't always mean the company is based in the UK so it is best to find the postal address of the company.
IF YOU NEED TO COMPLAIN.
If you do experience any problems the first thing to do is to call customer services and write to the head office. Ask for the names of those you talk to and keep hold of all correspondence via email and post. If you have to return the goods, ask for a refund of postage or ask them to collect it. Contact The Office of Fair Trading for advice if you need to take your complaint further. If your order with an overseas online retailer econsumer.gov has some useful advice, particularly on purchases made in the US. Safebuy.org.uk also provides a mediation service for disputes between consumers and retailers. All sites should offer you the chance to decline emails offering other products or promotions from them or third parties.
Hopefully this guide will assist both beginners and seasoned on line shoppers alike !!
Member since: 4th June 2013
An owner of Thebestof Portsmouth, I have lived in Portsmouth and Southsea all my life, so I like to think I have a good idea about what makes us tick. I am passionate about all things Portsmouth and Southsea,...