23 November 2016
Once again, it's time to buy Christmas gifts. Some people shop, for example, at shopping centres, others at online stores. Many belong to the latter group. Join our lawyer Saija Kivimäki on a shopping spree! Her shopping list contains hiking shoes, a make-up bag and a coffee maker.
Shopping online can save you time and trouble. European online shops provide Finnish consumers with a wide range of choices and the chance to find bargains. Unfortunately, the huge number of online traders also includes dishonest operators, both in Finland and abroad. You can, however, avoid unpleasant surprises by being vigilant and careful.
Choose a legitimate trader
Let's begin our shopping spree. My husband would like new hiking shoes. I type in to the search box a hiking shoe brand that I like, and a number of online shops are displayed I select one that looks tempting, but which I am unfamiliar with. As I have not had any experience of this trader, I first check the information they give about themselves. What on earth is this? The address or telephone number of the company cannot be found anywhere, and the only way to contact the trader is through a contact form. On reflection the prices, too, seem strangely low and the Finnish web pages are swarming with typing errors. No thanks – I'll keep searching.
I find another trader, an Austrian company, which has comprehensive contact information and I also notice that the online shop's website provides very clear terms and conditions. I also search the web for other buyers' experiences of the shop, and then I'm ready to place an order.
Paying by credit card gives extra security
Next is a Christmas gift for my sister. I intend to buy her a make-up bag from a Danish online shop with which I have done business before. I click the item to the shopping cart and proceed to the checkout. I check that an unbroken key symbol or padlock is displayed at the bottom or top of the browser window and that the website address is in the format https instead of http.
I take out my credit card and select it as the form of payment. If, for some reason, the trader fails to send the make-up bag or does not refund the payment, I can claim the chargeback from the company that granted the credit card, a right secured by the Consumer Protection Act.
The online shop also seems to provide an option to pay through PayPal. The advantage is that I can claim a refund from PayPal if I don't receive the item or if it doesn't match the description given. The refund obligation is based on a contract with PayPal.
I click the payment method choice and confirm the make-up-bag order. Santa's sack starts to fill up!
Possible surprises in terms and conditions
Granny gets a bottle of vitamins as a gift. I remember that I've seen an advertisement for cheap vitamin pills on Facebook. Was it some kind of free sample? I look for the site in question and read through the terms behind the link.
I should have guessed – this is an order charged on a monthly basis. According to the unclear terms and conditions, I can't solely order this welcome package as, if I cancel the follow-on order, I must return the sample. Once again it has been shown that there is a “hook” behind tempting advertisements. I think that I'll place an order with a familiar Swedish online shop that I trust.
Customers nearly always have the right to return goods, but who pays the costs?
I need to find a parcel for my cousin to put in Santa's sack. I'm sure she would be delighted with a new woollen hat. I have made sure that the German trader is reliable, but what if my cousin doesn't like the gift I chose? Luckily, consumers have the right to return nearly all goods purchased online.
Nevertheless, I want to know whether the trader will pay the return costs. It transpires from the website that the consumer is responsible for the return costs. I'll continue my search with another trader, who offers free return of goods.
Check items when they arrive
Our online shopping spree is nearing its end. All that remains is a parcel for my parents. I find a suitable coffee maker on an Italian online shopping site. The delivery terms state that the transport company will deliver the coffee maker to my home address. I must make a note of the date of delivery, so that I remember to be at home then. I must check the parcel immediately and inform the driver in the event that there are any signs of damage. Otherwise, in practice, it will be nearly impossible for me to obtain compensation for any damage that has arisen during dispatch.
In the EU area, the seller has statutory liability for defects in a product. In other words, at this stage, you do not need to be concerned about potential operating problems that may emerge later on.
Help is available
All done – now I can wait for the deliveries. Thank you for your company! Before you go shopping yourself, you could read through our online shopping checklist, which provides more information on shopping online.
If, however, you encounter problems with your order, get in touch first with the seller, i.e. the online shop from which you purchased the item. If you cannot resolve the matter with the seller, you can contact the European Consumer Centre for advice when the seller operates in another EU country, Iceland or Norway. In problems relating to Finnish online shops, contact the Consumer Advisory Service.
Successful shopping and a merry Christmas!