Tips for safe Christmas shopping online

An increasing number of Nordic citizens buy their Christmas presents from online shops that enable them to compare prices and find the best deals. Although you can find excellent bargains online, always bear in mind that not all online shopping sites are reliable. For this reason, the European Consumer Centres in Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark have combined their best tips for Nordic consumers regarding shopping in national and foreign online stores. By following these tips, you can ensure safe Christmas shopping online.

What do I know about the retailer?

Always check the basic information provided by the online store. Can you locate the name of the company and full contact details (rather than just an e-mail address), such as telephone number, valid street address and domicile? What kind of payment options does the trader provide? If the only information available is an e-mail address and instructions to pay via bank transfer, it would be better for you to take your business elsewhere.

Also, note that even if the website is in Finnish, the online store may be located outside Finland. Should problems arise, you may not be able to contact them in Finnish. As a general rule, the level of consumer protection is pretty much identical in all online stores located within the EU.

It is also worthwhile to seek other buyers’ experiences. You can easily find these by typing the name of the company or online store in a search engine. However, you should look at any recommendations with a critical eye since they may be fake. Some international online stores have a so-called trustmark on their website as proof of reliability. This means that the company is committed to abiding by certain rules of online trading.

Take advantage of special offers and the right timing

Online stores compete for customers, so it pays to take advantage of Christmas promotions, especially around the Black Friday and Cyber Monday. However, remember that a low price can be offset by higher delivery costs. Therefore, free delivery may offer significant advantages. Consumers may also be attracted by extended return times offered by some online stores, which enable them to buy early and return any unwanted gifts after Christmas.

Many online stores offer various delivery options, including an express delivery to your door. Please note that an express delivery is usually more expensive than an ordinary delivery. Even an express delivery may not guarantee that your purchases arrive on time. For example, in previous years, unexpected weather conditions elsewhere in Europe have delayed the delivery of parcels in Finland. Therefore, we recommend that you make your online purchases as early as possible. Besides, even online stores may run out of the most popular items – such as certain favourite toys – well before Christmas, so remember to buy these in time.

Pay with a credit card!

With online shopping, it is possible that the retailer will not send the goods that you bought and paid for. For this reason, you should always pay for your purchases with a credit card. If the seller does not deliver the goods and will not issue a refund, you can claim the money back from your credit card company. Also, some banks apply similar principles to purchases made with debit cards. Check the terms and conditions of your own bank.

Check that the website is safe at the latest before making the payment. When visiting an online store, check that a lock symbol is displayed in the address field of the browser or that the website address is in HTTPS format.

Most banks provide services for secure card payments online. For example, you can specify that your payment card may only be used within a specific geographical area, such as Europe.

Pay attention to return policies and return costs

Consumers within the EU wishing to cancel their online purchases must send the retailer a written notice of cancellation within 14 days of placing the order or receiving the goods. The consumer must return the goods within 14 days of cancelling the order.

However, the return time may vary greatly between online stores. Be aware of this if you buy Christmas gifts that you may want to return. Some online stores even offer a return time of several months.

Remember that if you want to return a product, you can try it, but not use it. Read the terms and conditions to learn how the online shop defines trial and usage. If you return a product, you may have to pay the return costs. Some online stores offer free returns, but this is not always the case. Check this in the terms and conditions before placing your order.

If a product is defective, you have the right to have it repaired or replaced, or to demand a price reduction or a complete cancellation of the transaction without any cost to you. Also, check the seller’s website for information on warranties and servicing.

Retain the order confirmation and other documents

You should always receive a confirmation of your order. Retain it, along with any other documents and correspondence related to your order. If you contact the seller, do so by e-mail. This way, you will have proof of your contact and any details agreed if you encounter any problems later on.

However, if you encounter any problems with your order, contact the seller first. If you cannot resolve the matter with the seller, you can contact the European Consumer Centre Finland for advice if the seller operates in another EU country, Iceland or Norway. With regard to problems related to Finnish online stores, consumers living in Finland can contact the Consumer Advisory Service and consumers living in another EU country, the respective European Consumer Centre.

Before shopping online, read our online shopping checklist.
These tips were a part of ECC Finland´s newsletter 4/2015 published in English on 27.11.2015.

The European Consumer Centre wishes you Merry Christmas shopping online!