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Returning Goods Bought over the Internet

Marilyn Beardsmore


BUYING goods from the internet can be very convenient, but what happens if your purchase arrives and you don't like it or it has been damaged in some way?

This article is split into five parts:

Changing your mind

As per the EU Distance Selling Regulations, you have a 7 day cooling off period when you buy goods over the internet. This also applies to catalogues, text messaging, phone calls, faxing, interactive TV and mail order advertising in newspapers or magazines.

When the goods arrive, you might want to return them for any number of reasons.  For example; clothes don't fit, the goods are not the colour you thought, or not as nice as you imagined; the piece of furniture you bought won't fit where you wanted it to - and so on and so on.

(See Goods and services to which these rules do not apply).

Although you are allowed to try out products, you must take reasonable care of them. Be careful to make sure that the item is in its original condition, is unused and is returned in the orginal packaging.


Delivery and Collection Costs

As long as you return the goods within 7 days, you are entitled to a refund of the purchase price of the goods. Notice that you are not automatically entitled to a refund of postage charges.

Nearly all online shops set out their policy on returns clearly for you to read. These can vary considerably from trader to trader, especially with regard to the amount of time you have to reject goods and whether or not you have to pay the shipping costs.

Some companies, especially large established retailers and companies such as Littlewoods Home Shopping and other "catalogue" shops quite often have a free returns policy, so you don't have to pay any collection costs on goods where you have simply changed your mind. Some will even refund any original delivery charges.

However, most companies will not refund the postage costs and will expect you to bear the cost of returning the item. Notice that companies are not allowed to deduct a handling fee or re-stocking charge from your refund.

Interestingly, if a company does not tell you, via its website or in a written communication with you, that you are expected to pay shipping charges in the event of you returning the goods, then they themselves must bear the cost.

Some High Street traders such as Boots, M&S and so forth, allow goods to be returned to their stores if your particular local store carries that item.

Before making a purchase we strongly recommend that you read the returns policy of the company you are buying from. If you cannont find a returns policy on the website (it happens!) at the very least email them for a full statement. If you are buying a large item such as a piece of furniture, the cost of returning it can be considerable.

Steps you should take when returning an item:

1. Contact the company as soon as possible either by email or fax. Some companies allow you to telephone, but it is a good idea to have it in writing. To be on the safe side, telephone and email.

2. Make sure the goods are properly packaged and in the original packaging.

3. If returning an item by post at the very least get a certificate of posting. Companies are obliged to issue a refund, even if they have not received the goods back, providing you can produce proof of posting.

4. Make sure you include all the neccessary documentation.

Been Sent the Wrong Thing?

If you order a copy of the latest Scissor Sisters album and you get Mario Lanza, then the company is obliged to replace the item at no extra cost to you. Many will have a freepost address for returns such as this.

Damaged or Faulty Goods

If goods are damaged or faulty when you get them then the company has to refund all Delivery Costs as well as the cost of the item itself. You may wish the item to be replaced, in which case the company will have to bear any postal charges either you or they incur.

I did come across one online company who, in addition to a paid for delivery option, was offering a free delivery option. However, it was stated in their terms and conditions that in this case the goods were not insured and as they obtain a certificate of posting for each item posted, any damage occuring in transit is down to the purchaser. I have not, to date, been able to find out if a company is allowed to opt out of its legal obligations this way - if anyone can supply a definitive answer to this question, please email me!

Sale of Goods Act

The EU Distance Selling Regulations in no way affect your rights as a consumer under the Sale of Goods Act. Very simply, this states that goods must be "of merchantable quality" and "fit for the purpose" for which they were intended. And don't forget, your contract is with the seller, not the manufacturer, so if anything goes wrong its up to the seller to put it right.

If goods do not "conform to contract" at the time of sale, then you are fully entitled to a replacement. And this includes faults that develop at a later date. In fact, if a fault develops within 6 months of purchase, then it will be automatically assumed that the fault was present when the item was bought. Which means of course that the seller has to replace the item or refund your money (including postal charges). In some cases, consumers can demand damages up to 6 years after purchase (5 years in Scotland). But all of this depends crucially on what the item is - for example, a seller can hardly be expected to replace a 6 year old pair of boots that the heels have fallen off!

Visit the Department of Trade and Industry website for more information on the Sale of Goods Act.

Where to Complain

The Regulations are enforced by:

The Office of Fair Trading

Trading Standards. Just type in your post code for the telephone number, email address and website of your local trading standards office.

Goods and Services to which the EU Distance Selling Regulations do not apply:

Financial and Insurance Products and Services - companies selling such services are regulated by the FSA and you should direct any query or complaint to them.

Accomodation, transport or leisure services which occur on a specific date. Examples plane, train or concert tickets and sporting events. Also hotel accomodation, package travel and timeshare.

Services that have already begun

Items that have been personalised or made to your specifications.

CDs, DVDs or videos that you have unsealed.

Perishable goods such as flowers or food.

Periodicals, newspapers and magazines.

Certain personal items such as pierced earrings.

Gift Vouchers.

Betting, gaming or lottery services.

Goods bought at auctions, either online or via interactive TV.



If you have any queries or comments relating to this article, please email us


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