Legal Loopholes When Shopping Online

Do you shop online? Do you know your rights?
Australians spend more than $11 billion every year on online retail, yet an alarmingly high proportion of consumers are not aware of their basic online shopping rights, and what methods of recourse they can take when something goes awry. Consumers need to understand their online shopping rights to ensure security precautions are being met and to know if they are eligible for compensation.
In this piece we outline some of the legal loopholes and pitfalls you should know about online retail.
 
Australian online retailers
If you make purchases from an Australian online retailer, you are protected by the same Australian Consumer Laws as you would be in a physical store. If you have an issue with an Australian online retailer and communication is not effective, you can contact Fair Trading for information on the next steps you can take. If Fair Trading is unable to assist you, you may be able to lodge an application to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal, or seek independent legal advice. These laws are limited when you purchase goods from international websites, so be mindful of where the website is based. If you do purchase goods from overseas online retailers, it is important to ensure any repair facilities and spare parts are easily accessible to you in Australia in case something goes wrong.
 
Read the fine print
Your own knowledge of the terms and conditions of your purchase can be very important if something goes wrong.  Terms and conditions usually explain how issues, such as undelivered goods or goods damaged in transit, are dealt with, and who bears the responsibility if something bad happens to your purchased goods.
When choosing the delivery option in online shopping, there is sometimes the option to insure your goods’ safe arrival at an extra cost. If you are not sure if insurance is covered in the cost of your purchase, or if it is included in your shipping charges, you should always contact the seller before going ahead with a purchase. You should contact a seller immediately if your goods have not arrived in the expected delivery time or if they have arrived damaged.
It is also important to read an online retailer or seller’s refund and return policies. You may be offered a more generous policy through the website or seller than what is required under Australian Consumer Law. There is more information about your right to return goods on the NSW Fair Trading website: www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au.
 
Private sellers
The past few years have seen a huge rise in the popularity of consumer-to-consumer websites, such as eBay, Etsy, CarSales and more. Australian Consumer Law does not apply when you buy from a private seller when the goods are not sold in the normal course of their business. This means if you see, for example, a sofa chair advertised by a private seller on Gumtree, or a second-hand dress advertised by a private seller on eBay, Australian Consumer Law will not apply. Australian Consumer Law does not apply to private seller auctions, so do check the terms and conditions of the website hosting the auction and read up on the Online auctions page of the NSW Fair Trading website. Even if Australian Consumer Law is not applicable, when you are the purchaser in a sale you are still guaranteed clear title of the goods, unless otherwise advised before the sale.
If you cannot resolve a sale dispute with a private seller personally, websites such as eBay often have a dispute resolution service to assist you. If communication is unsuccessful, you can contact the relevant consumer protection body, depending on whether the seller was based in Australia or overseas. This may be the relevant Fair Trading body, or another consumer protection body. In New South Wales, if NSW Fair Trading cannot assist you, you may be able to lodge an application to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal. You can also make a complaint about a seller through www.econsumer.gov. It may be in your best interest to seek independent legal advice if this service is unable to help your situation.
While online shopping may have made our lives a lot easier with the click of a button, the legal loopholes and pitfalls are too often easily forgotten. When making a purchase remember to check the terms and conditions of a website or online seller as well as the refund policies they offer. Refer to the NSW Fair Trading website for many more resources on your rights and courses of action you may want to take.
 
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