Black Friday is just around the corner, so if you’re planning on bagging a bargain online then make sure you swot up on your consumer rights first.
This year Black Friday falls on 27 November. It always occurs on the Friday that follows Thanksgiving in the US and is often thought of as the official start of the Christmas shopping season. Black Friday gets its name because retailers noticed a pattern that they would go “into the black” or into profit after Thanksgiving, having been “in the red” for the rest of the year.
Whether you plan to shop on Black Friday or not, the second lockdown means that millions more of us will do some, or all of our Christmas shopping online, rather than on the high street this year. Here’s our rundown of your consumer rights and some of the things you need to consider if you’re buying goods on the internet.
Under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, any items you buy online should be delivered to you within 30 days of the order being placed, unless agreed otherwise. It’s essential to check the terms and conditions and delivery times before buying so that you know exactly when your goods are likely to turn up.
If you’re buying a large item or goods that are being made to order, you may have to wait longer than 30 days, but the retailer should let you know this when you place your order. If it is a big item of furniture you’re buying, making sure you are shopping with a member of the Furniture and Home Improvement Ombudsman can ensure you have an extra level of protection as members must manage any complaints formally. You can check the Ombudsman’s list of members before making your purchase here.
If a retailer specifically states on their website that items will arrive before Christmas, and they don’t, then that retailer has breached their contract with you and you are entitled to a full refund if you want one.
There are special distance selling regulations which entitle you to return items you’ve bought online, perhaps because they aren’t quite what you were expecting, or you’ve changed your mind. They don’t have to be faulty or broken for you to request a refund.
You’ll usually have to cover the cost of sending unwanted items back to the retailer and you must return the item within 14 days of receiving it. The goods must be returned in the same condition they arrived in, so don’t take off any packaging or labels when unpacking them. You won’t however, be able to cancel goods that have been personalised for you, or which could pose a health or hygiene risk such as earrings, or make-up that you’ve opened.
If the goods you’ve received are faulty, then under the Consumer Rights Act, you can request a refund, but you’ll have to send the item back within a fixed period. This is usually 30 days but can vary from retailer to retailer. If you don’t send it back within this timeframe, the retailer may only agree to a repair or exchange rather than a refund.
If the item you’ve bought develops a problem after several weeks, you’ll have six months to return it and the shop must agree to a refund unless it can provide evidence that it wasn’t faulty when you bought it. If you want to send something back after six months, it’ll be up to you to prove to the shop that there was a problem with the goods at the point of purchase. You can complain about something you’ve bought up to six years after you purchased it (five in Scotland) but it’s likely to be harder to get your money back the longer you leave it.
With any request for a refund, you’ll need to have proof of your purchase, which will usually take the form of a receipt or if you no longer have that, a bank statement showing the payment. Some shops will only accept a receipt, so check their returns policy when buying and if in doubt always hang onto it.
When shopping online, think carefully about how you plan to pay for the goods you’re buying, as the method you choose could give you extra protection. For example, if you’re buying an item costing £100 or more using a credit card and something goes wrong with your purchase, then under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, your card provider is jointly liable with the online store and may agree to refund you if the company you’ve bought the item from won’t.
If you paid with a debit card, or your purchase cost less than £100, you may still be able to claim your money back using ‘chargeback’ which enables your card issuer to provide you with a refund. This process is not as clear cut as the use of Section 75 in the Consumer Credit Act, so there are no guarantees that your issuer will be able to recover the money through chargeback – but it could still be worth a try if all else fails.
Using the online payment system PayPal can also provide you with protection as if your purchase doesn’t arrive, or doesn’t match the seller’s description, it should reimburse you. You won’t be covered, however, if the seller accurately described an item, but you weren’t happy with it, or if you don’t raise a dispute with them within 180 days of buying the item.
Stay safe online
Unfortunately there are always plenty of fraudsters operating fake shopping websites designed to part you from your cash, so make sure you’re on your guard when buying online.
You should only ever buy from websites with ‘https’ preceding the website address, as this means the site is a secure connection. If it’s a retailer you haven’t heard of, check customer reviews on sites such as Trust Pilot to get an idea of whether they are reputable and trustworthy.
You should also make sure you choose strong passwords for any shopping site where you’re signing up for an account or providing credit card details. Ideally you should choose a combination of upper and lower case letter, numbers and special characters and make sure you choose a different password for each account you set up. Using different passwords for each account means that if one retailer suffers a data breach and usernames and passwords fall into fraudsters hands, your passwords with other websites remain safe.
If you think you’ve fallen victim to an online shopping fraud, get in touch with your bank immediately and see if they can stop your transaction. If you have been defrauded or experienced cyber-crime you should report it to Action Fraud either online or by calling 0300 123 2040 so they can monitor reports of fraud and act quickly to stop it.
For more information on some of the scams doing the rounds at the moment, read our guide Coronavirus scams to watch out for.
Don’t rush into online purchases without doing plenty of research first to make sure you’ve found the best possible price for the items you want to buy.
Try not to get carried away, as retailers will be bombarding us with offers over the next few weeks, so write a list of exactly what you need to buy and how much you can afford to spend.
Catherine Hiley, the Black Friday deals expert at comparison site uSwitch.com said:
“Shopping online gives you the chance to plan in advance. Ahead of the event, write a list of the items you want, and note the price so that you can judge any Black Friday discounts. If you spot something appealing on the day, stick to your budget so you don’t find yourself regretting a purchase like the whopping 40% of people who admit that has happened to them.”