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.
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.
Tips for a safer online shopping experience
There are a number of ways you can help protect yourself when buying something online:
Only shop on secure sites — before you enter your payment details, look for the ‘https://’ (the ‘s’ stands for secure) and locked padlock in a browser’s address bar at the top of the web page.
Use a secure payment method — pay with a credit card or PayPal as they offer more protection. Be wary of online retailers that ask for payment via money orders, Bitcoin or gift cards.
Only buy from online stores that have a good reputation— if you’re not familiar with the retailer, check online reviews and look out for things like the number of reviews (the higher the better) and their date. Read the reviews thoroughly, the good and the bad.
Check the terms and conditions before you buy — what’s the return policy? How long do you have before you can return the item? The delivery and returns information is normally found at the bottom of a retailer’s web page.
Read product descriptions carefully – know what you’re paying for and check for any additional costs like delivery fees and credit card surcharges. If you’re buying from an overseas retailer, check the price is in Australian dollars – it’s very easy (and costly!) to confuse US dollars for Australian dollars when the currency is not listed next to the price.
Keep your device secure and up to date — make sure your device is running the latest software.
Keep copies of all communications– including confirmation emails and receipts, and check your bank statements too.
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.