The Internet is increasingly used as a marketplace for consumers and traders.Consumers can take a few steps to ensure they get the rights they are entitled to. Internet traders need to comply with additional legislation when selling their products at a distance.
Buying on the Internet
Before you buy anything online there are a few checks you can make before proceeding with your purchase:
- Remember that a great looking website does not always mean that the seller is reputable. Check Howard the Shopping Assistant who can tell you the reliability of a web trader.
- Make sure you know the sellers full postal address, especially if they are based outside the UK. Don't assume the seller is based in the United Kingdom just because they have 'uk' in their web address.
- Look for websites that are secure. Your browser will show a locked padlock or unbroken key in the bottom of the screen. The web address will alter from 'http' to 'https' to show it is secure.
- Think about shipping, postage and packing costs. If buying from abroad you may also have to pay customs duty.
- It is important to remember that private sellers use Auction Sites, and you don't have the same rights as when buying from a trader. Feedback may be untruthful and descriptions may be misleading. Ask questions before you buy, especially about returns.
When you buy from a trader they must give you the following information:
- The name of the company, a postal address and an email address where they may be contacted.
- Their VAT number, if they have one.
- An accurate description of the goods for sale or services offered (i.e consumers must be given clear information about the goods or services that they are buying).
- The price of the goods or service.
- How the consumer is able to pay (cheque, debt/credit card etc).
- Any delivery or return costs that the consumer will incur. A delivery time or expected delivery time, or any arrangements that may need to be made to get the goods delivered.
- If the price of the item is due to change, as it has been on offer, when is it due to change or for how long the product is on offer.
- The minimum period you are tied to a contract for ongoing services e.g. mobile phone contracts.
- If the seller decides to send a substitute product to the consumer then the consumer must be informed of this.
- The fact that consumers have a 7 day right to cancel their contract, under the Distance Selling Regulations, for whatever reason.
How you pay can affect your ability to get your money back when things go wrong.
- If you buy goods or services over £100, and you use a credit card, you may be protected and may be able to claim from your card provider, who is equally liable for any defects, breach of contract, misdescription or misrepresentation.
- If you pay with a debit card your rights are less clear. In some situations banks will allow a 'chargeback' to take place where they get the money back from the seller on your behalf and re-credit your account.
- For ongoing payments check what kind of payment arrangement you have entered into. Direct Debits come with a guarantee and you can cancel at any time. Continuing Payment Authorities are set up on credit cards and are entirely under the control of the seller, they can continue to take money out of your account without your consent.
- If using a payment company such as PayPal, PayPoint or Nochex check to see what protection they offer if something goes wrong.
- Remember to print out a copy of your order and the acknowledgement you receive.
- Check your bank statements carefully and never give out your PIN number.
Sending things back.
- If you buy goods on the Internet you still have the same rights as if you bought from a shop. Goods have to be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose, and have to be as they were described.
- In addition you have 7 working days after the receipt of the goods to simply change your mind. The goods must be in the same 'as sold' condition. These rights apply for all distance transactions.
- If you were not informed of your 7-day right to cancel then you have an additional 3 months in which to cancel and claim a refund.
- You may have to bear the cost of returning the items, and if so this should have been made clear by the seller before you committed to the transaction.
- The seller has 30 days in which to refund you your money. If you are returning goods because they are faulty or not as described, you do not have to pay the post and packing costs.
Selling on the Internet
Internet trading is a viable means for, in particular, small businesses to deal with their customers. Advice is available to you on how to begin doing this. As well as the Trading Standards Business Advice and Inspection pages. Advice is also available from Business Enterprise Support.
As an online trader you will need to pay particular attention to the Distance Selling Regulations and the E Commerce Regulations to ensure that you are giving your customers the information they are entitled to in a timely manner. The document links on the right set out in more detail how you can comply with the Regulations and at the same time protect yourself from fraudulent claims.
Face to face advice is available to you by contacting Trading Standards on 01495 235291.