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Online shopping - five tips to protect your rights

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Media Release

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Australia’s leading consumer law firm is urging shoppers to be aware of their rights when buying Christmas gifts over the internet this month, as new figures reveal Australians have spent a record amount on online shopping in the past year.

Slater and Gordon consumer lawyer James Naughton said shoppers had rights under Australian Consumer Law regardless of whether they choose to brave the crowds at traditional “bricks and mortar” shops or browse and buy from the comfort of their couches.

“While most Australian consumers continue to do their shopping in stores, the National Australia Bank’s latest online shopping report reveals we have spent a record $16 billion buying goods over the internet in the past year,” Mr Naughton said.

“It’s certainly a convenient way to shop, but there are potential pitfalls so it’s really important that buyers are aware of their rights and take necessary steps to avoid problems.

“When you go into a store you can pick up an item, touch it and try it on, so you generally know what you are buying and how much you will pay.

“It’s not so clear-cut online so you need to be confident about what you are buying, who you are handing your money to and know where you stand if what you have bought doesn’t live up to your expectations or doesn’t arrive.

Mr Naughton said three quarters of online shopping is done through Australian-based websites, which are subject to our consumer laws.

“It’s a lot harder to take action against an overseas-based online shopping site when problems arise, but complaints can be lodged with econsumer.gov – an international agency that gathers and shares cross border e-commerce complaints.”

Mr Naughton urged Australian shoppers to follow these five basic tips to protect their online shopping rights.

1. Research the site

Ask friends and family to recommend a good online store, check out independent reviews online, look for recall notices on products and research whether an online store or its suppliers have been the subject of legal action

2. Know what you are buying

Read descriptions carefully and check things like the colour of the product, its size, how much it weighs, what material it is made from and what accessories it comes with before purchasing. Also check what currency you are buying in.        

3. Read the fine print

Australian consumers have a right to a repair, replacement or refund when making a purchase over the internet if the product is defective or does not do what it is meant to. Not all sites will agree to an exchange or refund if you change your mind.

4. Keep good records

Ensure you have proof of your purchase. If you use a credit card keep a close eye on bank statements and call the bank if there is a problem.

5. Take action

If something does go wrong, complain directly to the site and ask for a refund or exchange. If you use a credit card to make the purchase and you are either overcharged or do not receive the goods, ask your bank for a refund.