Online shopping is a growing trend with Australians spending more than $11 billion every year on online retail. Fair Trading has commissioned market research into the attitudes of Australian consumers and businesses towards online shopping and their knowledge of security precautions.
The research shows that a high proportion of consumers are not aware of their basic online shopping rights and many small to medium businesses fall short on providing basic security measures and shopping information when selling online. More information about this research is available on the Online shopping research page on the Fair Trading website.
When you buy goods or services online from a business based in Australia you are protected by the same Australian Consumer Law that applies also to purchases made at a physical store.
If you buy online from an overseas trader, Australian Consumer Law may not apply and may only offer you limited protection. This could make it difficult for you to benefit from a warranty or to get a refund, replacement or repair if the goods you receive are defective.
Before purchasing from overseas you should also satisfy yourself that repair facilities and spare parts are reasonably available in Australia.
Australian Consumer Law does not apply when you buy from a private seller and the goods are not sold in trade or commerce in the normal course of their business. Examples include buying a used car privately from a person who isn’t usually in business as a motor dealer, or buying an article from a private seller on an online auction site.
Whether you buy from a private seller or from a trader in the course of their business, you are still guaranteed clear title on the goods, unless told otherwise before the sale.
If it isn’t possible to resolve a dispute with a private seller, the buyer might need independent legal advice.
As a general rule consumer guarantees under Australian Consumer Law do not apply to goods purchased at an auction.
For information about online shopping rights when buying through an online auction site go to the Online auctions page on the Fair Trading website.
Read the delivery terms and conditions before you buy from an online seller. That information usually explains how such issues are handled and who is responsible if goods are not delivered or get damaged in transit. If you are not sure whether insurance is included in the cost of the goods or the shipping charges, email the seller about this before buying the goods.
While completing a sale, you might sometimes be given a choice of delivery options and even asked if you want to insure your goods at extra cost.
Contact the seller immediately if your goods have not arrived within the stated time or they are damaged.
Before purchasing from an online seller, make sure you know the expected delivery time. You might need to refer to the terms and conditions to ascertain this. If you are still not sure email the seller to find out.
When purchasing from daily deals sites make sure you know the validity period of vouchers and the refunds policies if for instance; the supplier is unable to provide the service within this time, stocks run out or the supplier goes out of business before the goods or services are supplied. For more information go to the Group buying and daily deals page of the Fair Trading website.
The Australian Consumer Law applies in exactly the same way when buying online from Australian businesses, as when making a purchase by visiting a physical store. For information about who is responsible for returning goods, see the information about Rejecting and returning goods on the Guarantees on goods page of the Fair Trading website.
Make sure you read the seller’s refund and return policies. You might be offered a more generous policy than what is required under Australian Consumer Law.
If you have a problem with goods or services purchased online, refer to the dispute resolution process provided by the site and communicate promptly with the seller to attempt to resolve the issue. If this fails, you can contact your card provider or online payment service eg. PayPal promptly and enquire about a chargeback or refund.
If a credit card provider or online payment service doesn’t satisfactorily resolve the problem, and the transaction was in Australia, you may contact the Financial Ombudsman Service on 1300 780 808.
The further options that are available to you depend on whether your transaction was with a private seller, an Australian trader or an overseas trader.
In general the Australian Consumer Law does not apply when buying from private sellers. However, it may apply if the purchase was from a private seller and the sale was in the usual course of their business.
If the transaction was through an online auction site such as eBay, you might be able to contact their dispute resolution service for assistance. Alternatively you might need independent legal advice.
If the issue couldn’t be resolved through communication with the trader, you can contact Fair Trading for assistance.
If the transaction was with an Australian trader and not a private seller, Fair Trading can assist by attempting to achieve a resolution.
If Fair Trading intervention is not successful in achieving an acceptable outcome, you can lodge an application with the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal. Alternately, you can seek independent legal advice.
If the issue couldn’t be resolved through communication with the trader, you can contact the consumer protection body in the country where the trader is situated, and enquire whether they can help resolve the issue. You can also lodge a complaint through www.econsumer.gov
There are consumer protection agencies operating online which maintain a database of traders with a record of dubious trading activities. Some also maintain registers of traders abiding by national or international codes of practice for online trading.
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