It’s easy to see why millions of Australians are shopping online; the competitive prices, no parking hassles, a way to avoid the large crowds and queues. But what happens when the product you bought online doesn’t match the description? Or is faulty? This is where knowing your rights comes in handy.
It might surprise you to know that you have the same consumer rights whether you buy something online or in a store.
In this guide we take a look at what you can expect from Australian based online retailers, how you can help protect yourself when shopping online, as well as what to do if things don’t go as planned.
In this article:
Know your rights when you shop online
When you shop online with an Australian business you’re protected by Australian Consumer Law (ACL), although there are some exceptions when it comes to overseas retailers or online auctions and marketplaces.
Refunds and returns
If you believe there’s a problem with something you bought, you’re entitled to a refund or return depending on whether it’s a minor or major issue. In particular:
- You can return goods if they are not safe, of acceptable quality or they don’t match the description. Say you buy a pair of shoes and the heel comes off on your first wear – this isn’t acceptable quality. Or you buy a blue shirt online but when it’s delivered it’s green – this doesn’t match the description.
- A product does not have to be returned in its original packaging in order to get a refund.
- You’re entitled to a refund or return on sale items.
- A retailer cannot tell you that all purchases are final and no refunds will be given under any circumstances.
- If the problem is considered to be major, you can ask for a refund or replacement, rather than a repair.
Change of mind
Retailers don’t have to give you a refund if you change your mind about a purchase. Many large online retailers do offer refunds, but legally they don’t have to. So always check an online store’s return policy before you buy something.
Online auctions and private sellers
If you buy something from an Australian business through an online auction or marketplace such as eBay and Gumtree, you may be entitled to claim a refund. However, ACL doesn’t apply when you buy from a private seller online, like when an individual is selling a table on Gumtree.
ACL applies to overseas based businesses who sell within Australia, but they may have their own policies which can make things harder to get a refund, return or repair. So always check the online retailer’s return policy before you buy.
What to do if things go wrong
When things don’t go as planned, there are steps you can take to try to fix a problem:
Contact the seller — always try to resolve the problem with the seller first. Explain the problem and the outcome you want. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has a complaint letter tool you can use to help you write an email or letter to the business you bought the product from. Or if you prefer to call the business but not quite sure what to say, CHOICE has phone scripts you can follow.
Contact your bank or credit card provider — check whether you can reverse the charges while the matter is being investigated. If you paid with PayPal, you may also be able to lodge a dispute.
Make a consumer complaint — if you haven’t been able to solve your problem with the seller, contact the ACCC for advice or your local consumer protection agency.
For more information
The ACCC’s website is a great place to start for more information on your consumer rights and buying from online auctions like eBay.
CHOICE also has helpful advice on shopping, whether it’s online or in-store.
You can also register to watch our free online presentation on safer online shopping and banking.