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Online shopping: what are your rights?

Now that the festive season is fast approaching, more people turn to the internet to order gifts. Apart from having a wider choice of products, offers and prices, consumers can do this from the comfort of their home, saving time and money. However, consumers must be aware of their rights and obligations to avoid disappointment and also suffering an economic loss.

Online traders have the same obligations as traders on the high street. Additionally, online retailers must abide by the Consumer Rights Regulations – the regulations which protect consumers’ rights when buying from an online source and other means of distance communication.

First and foremost, before a contract is concluded, consumers should always be given specific and detailed information, both about the product and seller. Such information should include a detailed description of the main characteristics of the product and a trading name and address of the trader. The trader has to clearly indicate the price of the listed goods. This amount should be inclusive of any taxes and delivery costs. The online retailer must also make the consumer aware of any cancellation rights, if applicable. For any distance contract, the Consumer Rights Regulations stipulate that European consumers have 14 days during which they can withdraw from the contract without penalty and without giving any reason.

These 14 days start applying from the day of receipt of the goods or from the day of conclusion of the contract in case of services. If the consumer is not informed of such a right by the seller, this period will be extended to 12 months. Purchases done through online auctions can also be cancelled within the cooling off period. However, the goods have to be bought from a professional seller and not from a private seller.

If consumers choose to exercise the right of withdrawl, the supplier is obliged to reimburse the sums paid by the consumers within a maximum period of 14 days from the day they are informed by the consumer about the cancellation. The consumer may be asked to provide proof that the goods have been sent back.

When sending products back, the consumer may be asked to pay for shipping costs. However, they need to be informed beforehand of such costs. If the consumer is not informed about this, the trader will have to bear the shipping costs.

Online traders have the same obligations as traders on the high street

When buying online, the seller usually indicates the date of delivery of the products. But if no date is indicated, the seller must execute the order within 30 days. If goods are not available, the trader must inform the consumer as soon as possible and, in such cases, the consumer is entitled to cancel the contract.

When shopping online, one should also take all the necessary precautions to avoid fraudulent transactions. In such cases, it is important for the consumer to be aware of the following:

• The website is reliable and secure. This should contain contact details of the seller and the company’s registration number. Consumers need to be careful if the contact details are limited.

• Traders should provide information on the way a consumer can communicate with them. The online seller should inform the consumers about the right of cancellation.

• Consumers should avoid websites that accept payment by money order only. It would be best to choose websites that accept different types of payments. It is also advisable to check the payments made in order to confirm that the right amount of money has been withdrawn.

• Consumers also have the responsibility to read the terms and conditions provided on the website and fully understand their implications.

For further information about cross-border consumer rights or a complaint regarding goods bought online from a trader within another EU country, one can contact the ECC Malta by visiting the centre’s website on www.eccnetmalta.gov.mt.

This information has been provided by the European Consumer Centre Malta. The ECC-Net is a European network consisting of 30 European Consumer Centres representing all EU Member States and also Iceland and Norway. The network is co-funded by the European Commission and the EU Member States. In addition to assisting consumers in case of a complaint or dispute, members of the ECC-Net engage in joint projects to investigate specific business sectors. ECC Malta is hosted by the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

Odette Vella is director, Information, Education and Research Directorate, Office for Consumer Affairs, Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority.

odette.vella@mccaa.org.mt

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