Your rights as an online consumer

The Consumer Rights Directive covers you for a lot of online purchasing issues

Written by Evelyn Coffin


The European Union offers a lot of protective laws for consumers who buy things online, so online shopping—as well as ordering things from catalogues, over the phone, or from the TV—has never been safer. Under the Consumer Rights Directive, you have a number of rights that protect you as a consumer. Here’s a look at your rights when shopping online.

Your rights when buying online

When shopping online, you as a consumer are entitled to:

Clear and accurate information before you buy. This includes:

  • The name, postal address and full contact information of the company, including phone and email address
  • A correct description of the item you are buying and its full price, including taxes, delivery charges, and return fees, if necessary
  • Arrangements for payment and delivery
  • Information about how to cancel your order and get a refund, and a form for returning the items
  • Details on how long the deal is valid, the length of a contract, and any guarantees the company may offer
  • An order confirmation, in the form of an email

A refund if your goods are not delivered

  • Items you purchase online should be delivered within 30 days unless otherwise agreed upon.
  • If your items are not delivered within that time, you can either arrange a new delivery date or cancel your order, and receive a full refund.
  • You can also cancel after the 30 days, if you told the seller that it was important the items arrived at a certain time, and were too late.

The right to return something because you change your mind

Under EU law, there’s a 14-day “cooling off period” which states that you can cancel an online purchase for any reason within 14 days, and receive a full refund.
In the case of goods, you must also return the item within 14 days. You may have to pay for the cost of returning the item, and you are responsible for any damage caused to the item while you have it.

However, these item purchases cannot be cancelled:

  • Customized or perishable goods
  • Newspapers or magazines
  • Audio or video recordings and computer software which has been opened
  • Gaming or lottery services
  • Underwear or swimwear that has been opened

The right to return something that is faulty

  • If an item you bought turns out to be faulty, you should notify the seller immediately and ask for a refund or replacement.
  • If the site you bought from was an EU-based website, they must pay the return shipping charges for the faulty item.
  • If the faulty item you returned has not been refunded within 14 days, and you bought it with a credit or debit card, it’s possible for your bank to reverse the transaction in what is called a chargeback. You can contact your bank and give them the details of your transaction.

Your rights when buying digital content

You have rights when purchasing digital content too, whether that’s streaming music, downloading apps or books, or making in-game purchases. Here are those rights:

  • You must be responsible for choosing to begin the service (so it can’t just start downloading without your permission).
  • You have the right to cancel your purchase, unless you have already chosen to begin the service.
  • You should be informed how compatible the service is with other software and hardware.
  • You should be informed of any technical protection measures—for example if making copies of the item is prohibited.

Options for mistakes

Since you can’t see the items or the sellers in person, buying online can also be a little bit risky. Fortunately, your consumer rights extend to fixing mistakes if things don’t go quite as planned. Here are your rights regarding returns.

If you simply change your mind:

  • EU-based sites cover that cooling-off period of 14 days; however, you may still have to pay return charges.
  • If the site is not EU-based, it’s up to their policies whether or not they will let you return the item. It’s a good idea to read these policies before you buy.

If the item you ordered arrives broken:

  • Notify the seller in writing and ask for a return or refund. It is the seller’s responsibility to pay for return shipping and get you your refund within 14 days.
  • Same as above though, if the seller is not an EU-based business, it is up to their return policy. Read that fine print!

If the item you ordered doesn’t arrive:

  • If it has been more than the 30 days or agreed-upon time, notify the seller immediately.
  • It is then their responsibility to either deliver the item at a new agreed-upon time, or honour your cancellation and get you your refund within 14 days.

Buying from an individual, auction site, or non-EU website

  • The Consumer Rights legislation does not apply when buying from any of these places! The best thing you can do is to check the terms and conditions of the site, know their return policies, and be careful before buying.

Some things to remember

Despite all the laws, buying online can sometimes still be a risk. The number-one rule is, if you don’t trust a website, don’t make the purchase. Here are a few tips for staying safe when buying online.

Make sure you’re secure

Most credit card companies nowadays have secure systems for buying online, so talk to your bank and make sure you’re protected when you’re shopping online. If you’ve saved passwords or credit card numbers on your device, make sure you know who’s using it. Remember that sometimes, shared devices or wi-fi, like in coffee shops and airports, are less secure connections.

Watch out for scams

If you get fishy emails, extra bills, or pop-up windows when you’ve made a purchase, be very careful about where you put your credit card details in.

Always read the fine print

It’s important to know the terms and conditions, cancellation policies, etc. While you’re reading also look at other customers’ reviews of the website, and make sure the website is based in the EU, so that you can take advantage of the Consumer Rights Directive.

Need more information, advice or guidance?

We offer information, advice and guidance about the issues that matter to you. Our online Youth Information Chat service is for 16 to 25 year olds and is available Monday to Friday, 4pm to 8pm (excluding Bank Holidays).

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