The number of people using the internet to make purchases ("e-commerce") is increasing all the time. It is easier to shop from home, you can compare prices from different suppliers, and prices on some internet sites are often lower than those in the shops. You can get things that may be very difficult to find in local shops, e.g. specialised equipment.
But there are things to watch out for. Deliveries may be late or don't turn up at all, and it can be hard to find out what's happening. Things that you order may not turn out to be what you thought they were and faulty or broken ones have to be sent back. There can be problems of fraud if you put credit card details on a form that is not properly encrypted and so is not safe.
Are you protected by the law when you shop on-line?
When you buy goods on-line from a company in the UK, you are covered by the same laws as when you buy goods in a shop.
Also Distance Selling Regulations mean that if you don't meet the seller face to face, you have the right to a refund of all money taken through fraudulent use of your credit or other payment card. There is a cooling-off period of seven working days when you can change your mind or cancel.
Tips for using the internet with UK companies
- Look carefully at the price and make sure you know about additional costs such as postage and packaging or extra charges for different methods of payment.
- Make sure the website has a proper address and telephone number in case you need to contact them.
- Look for security measures. For example: a small picture of a closed padlock or an unbroken key in the lower left or right-hand corner of the screen; the internet address on the web page you're on starts with https:// rather than http://. These indicate that the site is secure.
- Check to see that the company has a security policy.
- Print out the order (what you ordered, how much you paid etc.) and keep the terms and conditions that appear on the website, just in case of any disputes or problems later on.
- Don't send confidential information via e-mail (e.g. credit card details).
- Check your debit and credit statements properly to make sure no unauthorised person is using them.
- It's always helpful if you get a personal recommendation from someone who has used the website and company successfully.
Buying from abroad
The internet opens up a global market which brings more choice but also some disadvantages. Goods coming from abroad may take longer to be delivered and it can be difficult to return them and get complaints dealt with.
You also have to watch out for high postage rates and other hidden costs, like duties and taxes. As a result the Trading Standards Office recommends that you don't buy expensive items from companies outside the UK or Europe unless you know them well. In this way, if things go wrong, you won't lose too much.
Here are two ways to make your life a little easier:
Trust UK is a non-profit making organisation endorsed by the UK Government which helps consumers to buy over the internet with confidence. Look for the TrustUK e-hallmark on a website.
Which? Web Trader
Which? Web Trader lists traders who have agreed to follow the Which? code of practice for web traders.