Like it or not, the Christmas shopping frenzy is nearly upon us, and with an increasing number of us choosing to do our Christmas shopping online, it means making an even earlier start. But how much do you know about your rights when buying from the internet? A recent survey by the OFT found that a significant proportion of both consumers and traders were unaware of rights and regulations, and were also taking big risks in terms of online privacy and security.

The survey also looked at the concerns and fears many people have about imparting personal and financial information over the internet. Are you right to worry about this? Or will you otherwise be missing out on some great buys? In line with the theme of this year’s National Consumer Week, What Consumer shares its top rated tips to keep you savvy this Christmas, so you can enjoy the best the web has to offer.

1. Know who you are dealing with.

Businesses selling goods and services online must provide key information about themselves, their product and your rights. It is very easy for traders to ‘set up shop’, take your money and simply disappear overnight. If you can’t see a contact address on the website, do some further investigation before making your purchase.

2. Cooling off rights.

A cooling off period applies to most goods and services bought online. It entitles you to a full refund (including delivery charges) and normally extends for 7 days after you have received the goods. If however the trader has not provided you with the key information about your cooling off rights, the cancellation period can last for up to 3 months!

3. Secure Payment

When paying online ensure that the payment page is encrypted. Look out for the “padlock” used by web browsers to indicate that that this is the case

4. Card protection.

For online purchases, you are automatically protected against fraudulent use of your payment card by your card issuer. For poor quality or non-delivery you can claim a refund if you have paid in excess of £100 on your credit card. For payments on a Visa debit card, a ‘chargeback’ procedure will have the same effect. Caution is required where traders insist on payments via wire or bank transfer.

5. Shipping costs

Delivery charges may not be added on until the end of the transaction and can significantly increase the price you end up paying. This is particularly the case where you are buying from a selection of individual sellers on the same website . Many retailers will offer free delivery if you spend over a certain amount.

6. Delivery time

Unless you’ve agreed otherwise, the supplier must send the goods or carry out the service no more than 30 days after your initial order. If they can’t, they must offer you another date, send you something else or give you your money back.

7. Faulty Goods

When buying from an online business, you have the same statutory rights as if you had bought the item from a high street store. If the item is of poor quality or not as described, the supplier must repair or replace within reasonable time, at no additional cost and without significant inconvenience. If repair or replacement are not impossible, you are within your rights to request a refund.

8. Auction Sites.

When buying from online auction sites such as e-bay, you are not buying from the site but from the individual who is selling. This has obvious risks in terms of verification of genuine or good quality products , but it also diminishes your consumer rights. Where you have bought from a private seller, your statutory right to claim a refund if the item is of poor quality does not apply.

9. Read the small print.

You will usually have to tick a box to say you have agreed to the suppliers’ Terms and Conditions. But what exactly have you agreed to? Always take the time to scan the Ts and Cs for any additional charges, obligations to cover return costs, or agreements to receive junk mail. Also keep an eye out for those little boxes which have automatically been ticked – be aware of what you are agreeing to and untick them if necessary

10. Beware the free trials!

Online traders ‘hook you in’ through free or cheap introductory trials. Typically you have to provide card payment details up front, so if you forget to cancel, you are automatically charged.

For more information on the distance selling regulations, go to:

More info: (links to an external PDF)