How to buy with confidence

How to buy with confidence

Meet our expert

Richard Lloyd is executive director of the consumer champion Which? which has been campaigning to make people’s lives fairer, simpler and safer since the Fifties. Which? offers independent advice on a wide range of subjects and its services and products put consumers’ needs first to bring them better value.

Some of us are concerned about shopping by mail order, either online or over the phone, because you can’t touch and see the goods before buying and we’re not always sure of our rights. In fact shopping this way gives you extra protection under the law called the Distance Selling Regulations (DSRs).

In addition to the Sale of Goods Act, which states goods must be, ‘as described, of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose,’ the DSRs state that you have a right to cancel and the right to information about a seller, including their address, delivery details and returns policy.

Your right to cancel starts at the time of purchase until seven working days from the day after you receive your items. If you cancel within this time you should receive a full refund.

We asked Richard Lloyd from Which? to answer some common mail order questions:

Q The company says my parcel was delivered but I don’t have my goods. What can I do?

If the package is left on the doorstep and it’s stolen, the company is in breach of contract and should replace and redeliver your item. You can argue that the item has not been delivered as the goods were left on your doorstep without your permission. However, this argument doesn’t work if you actually asked for your parcel to be left on the doorstep.

Q The camera I ordered stopped working after just two days. Can I get a refund?

The DSRs are in addition to your rights under the Sale of Goods Act. So, if an item is faulty, you should be able to return it within a reasonable time (usually three to four weeks) and request a replacement or repair.
  If you’ve bought from a private seller, you may be out of luck, though. Goods only have to be ‘as described’ and private sellers aren’t obliged to draw attention to any faults, such as a scratch on the lens.

Q I want to return something because I don’t like the colour. Do I have to pay postage?

Unfortunately yes, most online retailers will specify that if you exercise your right to cancel you will have to pay the postage. But check the small print – if the retailer hasn’t specified this, then they should cover the cost of postage.

Q I ordered a DVD for a friend’s birthday but it hasn’t arrived in time. What can I do?

Suppliers have to deliver within the time-frame promised in their contract. Check if your original order specifies a delivery date, if it does, the DVD should have been delivered by the deadline. If no date is specified, then your item must be delivered within 30 days of your order. If you haven’t received your item in this time, you have the right to cancel and get a full refund. 

Q How can I tell if an online company is reputable?

Stick to companies you know – most high-street stores will have an online presence and there are also a number of well-known online retailers. These all have to abide by the same rules as high-street stores as well as the DSRs. 

There are a couple of scams to be wary of if you’re unfamiliar with online shopping. Some scammers may try and ‘clone’ familiar websites, check the website carefully to make sure it matches the page you are on. Often prices on fake websites will be significantly lower than the market value. As always, if something looks too good to be true then it is probably best avoided.

Q Is there anything I can’t return?

There are some goods you can’t return simply because you’ve changed your mind, these include: CDs, DVDs or software if you’ve broken the seal on the wrapping, perishable items or those that deteriorate quickly such as food and flowers, tailor-made or personalised goods and, for hygiene reasons, underwear and earrings.
If something looks too good to be true, it’s best avoided.