Despite becoming the largest European contingent of online shoppers, the majority of British consumers are unaware of their rights when it comes to e-commerce, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has found.
According to the Centre for Retail Research, UK shoppers spent £38bn on online goods in 2009, comprising 10% of overall internet sales. But the BIS discovered that many are unaware of additional rights enforced on internet retailers and are reluctant to return faulty products.
Its survey found that over 60% of shoppers were less likely to return goods purchased online compared to the high street, while 77% are unaware that their rights differ when shopping on the net.
"There has been a huge revolution in how people buy goods," said Government consumer minister Kevin Brennan. "We are now Europe’s biggest online shoppers, so it’s important we all know that most online goods can be returned with no questions asked within seven days. We want confident consumers who can assert their rights and get a good deal."
EU selling directives enforce a seven day “cooling off” period in which consumers can cancel e-commerce orders without reason, but such rights are waived when goods are personalised to the consumer, perishable or damaged upon return.
"To cancel your order, you must tell the seller in writing – by letter, fax or e-mail," said advice from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). "If sending a letter, send the letter by registered post, so you can prove that you sent it and track its progress. If you have already paid for the goods or services, the seller must refund your money as soon as possible and within 30 days of you cancelling the agreement."
While receipts are not essential for returning online goods, the BIS has warned shoppers that they must prove their purchase, either through bank account deductions or credit card statements.
Michelle Shambrook, Operations Manager for the helpline Consumer Direct, added to the advice, stating that “people who are knowledgeable about their rights are more likely to get a fair deal, save money and resolve problems when things go wrong”.