European Consumer Centre tips for successful online shopping

Many people purchase Christmas gifts on online shopping campaigns such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which are scheduled for the end of November. However, with attractive offers, one should pay attention to such matters as delivery terms, returns, and payment methods. Especially with an unfamiliar online store, it is important to remember to check what contact information and contact methods the seller offers, what is stated in the order terms and what experiences other consumers have of the same seller.

Christmas rush can cause delays in delivery times

When ordering, check the delivery times promised by online stores. It is always possible that delivery may be delayed. During the COVID-19 pandemic, some online stores may be delayed in their deliveries even before the Christmas rush. There may also be delays in domestic online stores. In previous years, for example, the weather conditions and winter storms in Europe have caused delays for package deliveries.

It is probable that online stores will notify the consumer of delayed delivery times in advance, but at times the consumer will only be informed of longer waiting times after ordering. If you already know in advance that the item you want is unlikely to reach you in time, you can always search for the product in another online store. Some online shops offer different delivery methods at different prices. By paying a little more for the delivery, you can get the product home faster. Therefore, check at the order stage what kind of delivery you are choosing.

Think about what you pay for and how

Old wisdom says that if something seems too good to be true, it is probably not true. It is a good idea to keep a clear head, especially when shopping online, when you cannot see and test the product before making a purchase decision. An exceptionally affordable product can be attractive, but discounts can also be confusing and price comparisons should be made to determine the actual price level. A suspiciously cheap product can also report fraud or counterfeiting, especially in the case of branded products.

Also pay attention to how you pay. A trustworthy online store offers consumers a wide range of payment options. In most cases, a credit card is the most secure method of payment when ordering from online stores. When you pay with a credit card, you have the possibility to demand that the money be returned from your credit company, under the Consumer Protection Act, if the order does not arrive and the seller does not return your money.

The online store’s home country matters

It is worth remembering that even if the online store has a website in Finnish, it may still be located in any country. In case of problems, there may be no customer service in Finnish.

It is always a good idea to check the country where the online store is located before ordering, because if the seller is located in a country other than the EU countries, Norway, or Iceland, the European Consumer Centre cannot help you in settling issues. In addition, the level of consumer protection in the EU area is relatively uniform and product safety is closely monitored.

Information about the country where the seller is located can be found in the contact information – if the seller does not provide their geographical address, it may be smarter to make purchases elsewhere. It is also a good idea to read through the terms and conditions of the order, which may indicate in which country the seller is located and from which country the products are delivered – delivery may take place from a different country than the one where the online store is located.

Today, several online stores prefer dropshipping, or direct delivery, as their main form of delivery. In this case, the seller does not store products in their own warehouse, but the goods leave directly from the supplier, often from another country. When a delivery comes from a non-EU country, this may incur additional costs for the consumer in the form of customs duties and VAT. Typical issues with direct deliveries include long delivery times, non-existent return practices, and wrong or broken products.

It is therefore advisable to check the contact details of an unfamiliar online store before purchasing – a trustworthy seller always provides additional contact information than just an electronic contact form.  Another good way to ensure that the seller is reliable is to use a search engine to find experiences of other consumers in the seller in question.

Be careful – return policies vary

In the EU, most online store products have 14 days’ return policy. However, there are exceptions to this. Products that cannot be returned include personalised products, such as engravings or tailor-made clothes, as well as certain hygiene products. In addition, flights purchased online cannot be cancelled, in principle. Yet, during the COVID-19 pandemic, several airlines have flexibility in their terms and conditions, which vary by ticket type. Please read the terms and conditions carefully before ordering a flight ticket.

At times, purchases that seemed good cause regrets afterwards. Please remember that goods ordered online cannot simply be left uncollected, but they must be returned. Return of the product must be notified to the seller within 14 days of receipt of the product. The online store’s return instructions should be followed. Save all possible communication with the seller in case of potential problems.

During Christmas, several online stores offer longer return times. Several online stores offer free returns, but not all of them. Please read the terms and conditions carefully to determine whether the return involves costs. The heavier the product and the longer the distance it travels, the more important the return policy is. It is not the same to return a shirt to Sweden than a light fixture to Italy, at one’s own expense.

Did the product you ordered not arrive?

If you do not receive the product you ordered or receive the wrong product, notify the seller without delay. This is the seller’s error, and the seller must send you the correct product. You must return the wrong product. The seller’s responsibility is to compensate for the costs of the return as well as other costs incurred as a result of the error. If the product you have ordered still does not arrive and the seller can no longer be contacted, you should apply for a refund from the credit company. You can appeal to the creditor’s liability if you paid the purchase with a credit card. Debit cards may also have similar security, the terms and conditions of your card will determine the matter.

Try to solve problems with the seller first and keep all relevant documents, such as order confirmation, payment receipt, and exchange of messages with the seller. If the case is not resolved, you can contact the European Consumer Centre if the online store is located in another EU country, Norway, or Iceland. We are happy to help you.

For Chinese online stores and other non-EU operators, we cannot reconcile disputes, but we provide general advice. If the problem is related to an online store in Finland, contact the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority’s Advisory Services.

As a longer article, this bulletin is part of the European Consumer Centre’s newsletter 4/2021, which was published today on 24 November 2021.