The international marketing campaign Black Friday and the subsequent Cyber Monday urge many to make their Christmas purchases and other finds online as early as in November. However, there are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind when shopping online: check what the seller says about themselves, where the seller is located and where the products are delivered from, what the original price of the product is, if you have a right of withdrawal, what the estimated delivery time is, and how returns are handled. Finally, pay with your credit card.
High season affects delivery times
During any peak season, it is worth remembering that the promised delivery times may be delayed. Therefore, it is advisable to order gifts well in advance, especially when ordering from abroad, so that they are sure to arrive in time for Christmas. Online retailers often report delays in delivery times in advance. You should check the estimated delivery time already upon ordering, but keep in mind that delays are still possible. Parcel pick-up points may become congested before Christmas and your delivery may be directed to another point, which may cause a delay and additional trouble. Even difficult weather can occasionally cause delays in air cargo transportations, for example. During the peak season, you may want to look into the available express shipping options – by choosing a slightly more expensive delivery, you can get your product faster. You can also search for the same product in other online stores to see what kind of delivery times other retailers may offer.
Pay attention to price details
Be alert in the midst of all the tempting Black Friday offers. If the seller markets products at a reduced price, the marketing must indicate the lowest price at which the products have been marketed in the 30 days preceding the price reduction. However, this does not always hold true in all online stores; instead, some online retailers may temporarily increase their product prices just before the start of the promotional campaigns, and then lower the prices back to normal when the campaigns begin. This may give consumers the impression that the products are sold at a reduced price, when in reality they are sold at the regular prices. Therefore, it is advisable to compare prices between different retailers.
In general, consumers can expect that online stores mark their prices carefully. Sometimes, however, there are errors in the price details. Unusually low prices outside promotional campaigns may indicate that there is an error in the price information. It may be possible to place an order at the incorrect price, but consumers should be aware that if the error is significant, the seller may invoke the price error and cancel the entire order.
Sometimes you may encounter incomplete or incorrect product information in online stores. Therefore, you should carefully check what you are buying before placing the order. Pay special attention to the technical characteristics, size, and colour of the product, as well as the delivery time, price, and possible delivery costs. When ordering from outside the EU, the delivery may be more expensive than the product itself.
Differences in payment methods
Online stores usually offer a variety of payment methods. For example, consumers may choose an invoice, the retailer’s own credit agreement, credit transfer, or card payment. Invoicing is often handled through a payment intermediation service, such as Klarna or Qliro. In most cases, the best option for the consumer is to pay with a credit card. When you pay with a credit card, you can claim a refund on your money from your credit supplier if, for example, the seller does not deliver the order and refuses to refund you or goes bankrupt. Similar protection is also included in some debit cards, so read the terms and conditions of your card for more information.
In addition, banks often have their own additional services for payment cards, such as e-commerce services that provide protection for online transactions. Even home insurance policies may sometimes cover damages resulting from wrong orders made by consumers.
Look out for counterfeit products and offers that seem too good to be true
Products from well-known high-quality brands are often welcome gifts, but make sure to choose the online store carefully when purchasing such items. In recent years, the European Consumer Centre has received numerous contacts from consumers, in particular concerning counterfeit products from China.
For example, it is quite common for consumers to watch advertisements on social media and then end up in a Finnish or English-language online store which sells individual brands, making the consumer believe that the retailer is Finnish or European. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Customers are often left disappointed when the ordered goods never arrive, or if they receive a product that is either clearly a counterfeit or simply the wrong item.
If you are planning to buy brand items online, make sure to choose a reliable and authentic retailer. Dedicated brand websites often contain a list of the official brand retailers. When you have selected a store, make sure that the company’s contact details are stated on the online store’s website, and remember to read the terms and conditions. If you are not previously familiar with the store, it is usually a good idea to use a search engine to browse other consumers’ experiences of the store in question. Thorough research and background checks can help you avoid disappointments. Moreover, remember that when an offer appears too promising, it can be just that: too good to be true.
Incorrect orders and right to cancel online purchases
As a rule, online purchases are subject to a 14-day right of withdrawal, and the products may also be returned. However, the right to cancel does not necessarily cover all purchases made in the online store, and returning items is not always free. It is advisable to check the right of withdrawal and the company’s return policy on the retailer’s website or in their terms and conditions applied to orders. When ordering, you should also bear in mind that the shipping distance will affect the return costs – which makes it important to know who is paying for the return costs and from which country the product is delivered.
During the Christmas season, many online stores offer an extended cancellation period beyond the regular two-week timeframe – after all, sometimes it is impossible to determine whether a gift is suited to the recipient before Christmas Eve. However, it is important to note that the right of withdrawal does not apply to all online purchases. This exception covers especially hygiene products and customised items, such as tailored clothing or products that have been personalised according to the consumer’s wishes. Furthermore, the right of withdrawal does not usually apply to flight tickets purchased online, but it may be possible to change the flight schedule. The key is to carefully check the terms and conditions of the ticket before making a purchase decision and selecting the ticket type, as the terms and conditions may vary. The more expensive ticket categories often include more flexible terms, as well.
Sometimes mistakes do occur even on the seller’s side. You may receive a product that differs from what you ordered or is defective. If you notice such an error, it is recommended to notify the seller as soon as possible. You may notify an error or lodge a complaint even after the cancellation period has expired. If you receive an incorrect or defective product, you must return it, and the seller is obliged to correct their mistake by, for example, repairing the product and compensating you for all costs arising from the defect, such as the costs of returning the product.
At least remember these!
- Before making a purchase, do your background research carefully: compare different retailers’ prices and terms and conditions, and consider whether you actually need the product and if it is useful. When buying items online, it is advisable to exercise the same caution and care you would apply to any other purchases. Do not let reduced prices or deadlines cloud your judgement.
- In order to resolve problem situations, it is essential that you know the country of origin of the company you are dealing with and where the online store is located. The language of the online store or website address does not necessarily reveal the seller’s location. It is also worth remembering that the products may be delivered from a different country than where the seller is located. This information can often be found in the order terms and conditions. Many online retailers operate based on the dropshipping principle. Such companies have no product warehouses of their own, and the deliveries may often come from China even if the retailer is located within the EU.
- Pay attention to the languages which you can use when contacting the retailer. Even if the website is available in Finnish and you can successfully place an order in Finnish, it is still possible that customer service is only available in English or in some other language. This may have a significant impact on the purchasing process, especially if any problems arise. Check the customer service’s contact information and details shared in the terms and conditions of the order.
- Check that the contact details of the online store can be found on the website. If the only way to contact the retailer is by using an online form, and if the company’s details do not show a street address, phone number or email address, be careful.
- Before making a purchase decision, it is advisable to use search engines to read other customers’ reviews and feedback on the online store simply by entering the name of the store in the search engine. This gives you valuable information about the reliability of the online store and about other customers’ experiences. If the offers seem too good to be true, be especially cautious.
When you use common sense, check the online store’s contact information, product information and order terms, and choose a secure payment method, you can safely do your Christmas shopping online and enjoy the benefits of discount sales.
In the event of disputes or problems, you can contact us at the European Consumer Centre for advice when you have made an order with an online store located in another EU country, Norway, Iceland or Great Britain and the matter cannot be resolved directly with the company. With regard to online stores located outside these countries, the European Consumer Centre cannot offer mediation in problem situations, only general advice. In some cases, the consumer may turn to the company’s own dispute resolution channel. For Finnish companies, you can get advice from the FCCA Consumer Advisory Services.
This article is part of European Consumer Centre’s newsletter 4/2023.