Guide to shopping safely online this Christmas

Friday, 03 December 2010 12:00

by Ben Salisbury

Monday 6th December is gearing up to become the year’s busiest day for online shopping in the UK. It is likely that the effect of snow across the UK will reinforce this.

‘Mega Monday’, as it has been christened and the day before, Sunday, are expected to see a total of £500 million spent online. The total online spend on Christmas shopping over the course of November and December is likely to reach £12.4 billion, according to research from IMRG, the UK trade association for online retailers.

Consumers need to be aware that a rise in online shopping is likely to be accompanied by an increase in online fraudsters, so it is important to know what your rights are when you make an online purchase and be aware of the risks.

Online shopping rights

The fact that when you make an online purchase you are unable to go back to a store and confront a sales manager concerns some shoppers. The possibility of having no point of redress if you are unhappy with a product is a worry, but in actual fact you have the same rights when making a purchase online as you do when shopping on the high street. The important point that will help you shop safely online is to do some research on the company or person you are sending money to beforehand.

Any goods you buy from a high street store must be of satisfactory quality and as advertised by the retailer. If they are not, then you are entitled to a full refund. However, if the goods are of perfect quality and come as advertised, automatically have rights to a refund. So, if you change your mind you are not legally entitled to a refund. You can still try and persuade the store to give you a refund, and they may well agree to this in the interests of retaining your future custom, but that is a discretionary decision.

You have exactly the same rights when you make an online purchase and you even get extra protection under the Consumer Protection (Distance selling) Regulations 2000. With most online purchases you are entitled to a cooling-off period, which means if you decide you don’t want the item for any reason you can return it and get your money back. When you buy products this period begins from when you receive the goods. If purchasing an online service the cooling-off period begins from when you complete the order.


Items purchased online that don’t have cooling-off periods applied include betting and lotteries, newspapers and magazines, perishable goods, purpose built goods and DVDs and CDs that have been opened.

Danger signs

Most established online retailers now have clear consumer rights in place and appreciate that building a reputation as a reliable online retailer will have a beneficial effect on their business. However, the rise in online sales provides an incentive for fraudsters to operate and the run up to Christmas is the ideal opportunity for them.

If you are buying from private sellers or small businesses that you have not heard of, you should make some checks. On Amazon, eBay, and other similar websites it is relatively easy to check by looking at reviews by people who have already purchased online from the individual sellers. If a seller has a high amount and proportion of good ratings, you should be OK, but try and establish correct address and contact details from new or recently established sellers.

Give the number a call and speak to someone and ask them a few questions about the product. This will help you establish their validity. If you can’t find a registered address or no one answers the phone or calls you back, it might be an idea to give this source a wide berth and find a different supplier.

Use’s free directory enquiries service to verify a sellers name and address. Pay particular care when buying expensive branded electrical equipment such as digital cameras, smart phones and laptops.

Other key online shopping rights

Other important checks that online shoppers should make are to make sure that the goods you order are delivered in a timely manner. If they take longer than 30 days, you are entitled to a full refund unless a longer delivery period has been agreed in advance.

If you decide that you don’t want the purchase, you are entitled to a full refund within 30 days if you have informed the supplier in writing or by email of your decision. If your purchase goes wrong or you find out it’s faulty after the seven-day cooling-off period is up you still have rights to a refund, replacement or compensation under the Sale of Goods Act. This is particularly important at Christmas, when many goods are not opened for weeks after their purchase.

Purchasing online with a credit card

It is a good idea to pay for online items with a credit card because you get extra protection. If there are problems with the purchase you make and they cost you between £100 and £30,000, you can claim a refund under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. So, if a retailer goes out of business between the time you make the payment and the time that the problem occurs, you can claim a refund from your credit card provider.

For more advice, check out the Consumer Direct website. And, for more information on how to avoid getting ripped of online visit getsafeonline.

Comments Bubble Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus

Save money on your gas and electricity bills

Compare all energy prices with uSwitch and save up to £400.

Twitter: My Finances

Join the conversation at #news_myfinances

Newsletter sign up


In addition to the weekly newsletter, which areas of finance would you like to hear from us about:

Tick this box if you would like us to send you promotions from carefully selected third parties.

By signing-up you agree to the terms of use and privacy policy.

sign-up button

Get the latest information on: