20 November 2014
Christmas is coming and it is time to think about gifts. More and more Christmas gifts are bought online. It is no wonder, for consumers have learnt that online shopping can save time, money and trouble. And when you buy online, you almost always have a 14 day cooling-off period, allowing you to return the goods if you regret your purchase. When you buy goods in a regular shop, you do not have an automatic right to return the goods. Each company can decide whether they allow the exchange of goods, and they may limit the return time of goods to five days, for example.
A wide selection of goods, and lower prices, have made international online stores particularly popular. You might also be able to find toys and clothing brands that are unavailable in Finland. Online stores within the EU have the added benefit of relatively uniform consumer protection policies.
It is always good to compare prices, but pay attention to details
Research shows that price is the most significant factor affecting purchases. Finding the lowest price online is especially easy with the help of various price comparison websites.
But pay attention to details when you compare products, as all price comparison sites do not show delivery and processing costs or taxes in their prices. The cheapest price may involve additional, hidden costs. You should also consider the terms and conditions of online stores, such as the procedure for returning or exchanging goods.
Pay attention to exceptions and return time policies
Airline tickets are a welcome Christmas gift for many. However, it is worth remembering, especially when buying airline tickets and separate travel services, that, as a rule, they do not include a right to cancel, and making changes to them often depends on the time of travel and may incur additional costs.
Otherwise, online shoppers within the EU are normally covered by the 14 day cooling-off period. However, if you buy your Christmas gifts early, the 14 days may well have passed by the time the gift is given. You should remember this when planning your shopping and consider carefully whether the gift is likely to suit the recipient.
Sometimes online stores, just like regular stores, may offer their customers extended return times on goods sold during the Christmas shopping period. You can find this information on the website or in the terms and conditions. In such cases, it is easy to do your Christmas shopping early, and you will still be able exchange or return unwanted gift after Christmas.
Know where to buy
People often say that Finnish online stores are safer than international ones. Of course, the vast amount of online stores will include dishonest operators in Finland and in other countries, but you can avoid trouble by being careful.
The key is to choose to do business with a responsible operator. There are several ways to determine the reliability of an online store.
Firstly, consider the information given on the website about the company. If there is hardly any information, and contact details only include an email address, it is best to take your business elsewhere. You can also do a background check by googling the company; people often share their bad experiences on discussion forums.
In Finland, trustmarks are not widely used. Elsewhere in Europe, in Germany, for example, several sellers are members of trustmark organisations, meaning that they are committed to abiding by certain rules. If a company has a trustmark on their website, find out what benefits it brings.
Pay with a credit card
The nastiest surprise for an online shopper is the seller not sending the goods bought and paid for. Paying for goods in advance is always a risk and this is why credit cards should be used for online shopping. If the seller does not deliver the goods and will not return your money, you can claim the money back from your credit company. According to the terms and conditions of most banks, similar principles apply to purchases made with debit cards.
Companies offering payment processing services are also present in the online shopping market. In general, it is best to choose a reputable operator rather than a small new company. Some payment processing companies may also offer consumers services, for free or for a charge, that provide added security for online shopping.
Check again and make sure
Before you make a payment, stop for a moment and think about the offer. Is it too good to be true? For example, a designer garment that is available for a fraction of the normal price may well be fake. Similarly, trial offers of goods for sale for delivery costs only may in fact lead to expensive fixed-term contracts. Do not place an order if you have not read and understood the terms and conditions.
Read more in our online shopping check-list, it includes information on exceptions to the cooling-off period and the cost of returning goods. If you have problems with an online store located in another EU country, Norway or Iceland, you can contact the European Consumer Centre. We will help you to dissolve and mediate disputes free of charge. Problems with Finnish online stores can be dissolved with the help of the Finnish Consumer Advisory Services.