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Caution when Christmas shopping online

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Buying Christmas presents online is a popular trend, but it doesn’t always go smoothly. Late or even failed deliveries, defective goods, erroneous deliveries, or incorrect invoice amounts are common pitfalls of online Christmas shopping. AXA-ARAG legal expert Leo Loosli shares tips for when things go wrong with your online shopping.

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    Leo Loosli

    Leo Loosli is a legal expert who works at AXA-ARAG in Market Management and as an expert in the areas of contract, inheritance, family, and personal law.

What are the most common risks when it comes to online shopping?

Direct loss of money is one of the most common risks when ordering goods on the internet. This classically happens when customers have paid for a delivery but never receive it. There are also often indirect losses if ordered goods do not meet expectations, for example in the case of incorrect or partial deliveries or defective goods. Other problems that can crop up include deliveries that arrive too late, incorrect invoice amounts or disregarded cancellations.

What are my options if I receive the wrong product or defective goods when I'm Christmas shopping?

Contact the supplier in writing, lodge a complaint about the defect, demand reimbursement and send the product back. In the case of damage, it's best to take a picture to document the evidence. If you paid by credit card, you should then check your statement to see if the purchase price was reimbursed.

What can I do if an online supplier assures me that the gift I ordered will arrive before Christmas but in the end it's delivered too late?

Of course it’s really irritating if the space under the Christmas tree is empty or another present has to be found at short notice because of scenarios like this. However, in the case of such expiry date business for which a certain date of performance is agreed, you must allow the supplier a suitable deadline, for example a few days, for subsequent delivery after the original date has expired. Set this deadline of a few days in writing. Only after this subsequent deadline has been missed is it possible for you as the creditor to decide whether you would still like to receive delivery or whether you would like to withdraw from the contract. But in any case: if you have problems, your legal protection insurance will help you enforce your rights.

Can I give a gift back if I don’t like it?

In general, the law does not recognize any right to return in such cases. This means that if you don’t like the gift, you only have the right to return it if such a right was contractually agreed between the parties, in the terms and conditions for example. If you're not sure whether you would like to keep the product, please obtain more information from the supplier’s website in advance – many reputable online shops offer a free right of return within a certain time period.

I was unexpectedly charged additional fees for delivery before Christmas. These fees were not evident when I placed the order. What can I do?

All costs must be contractually agreed between the parties. The agreement may be part of a specific contract or appear in the general terms and conditions which customers acknowledge prior to purchase. Provided that the indicated additional fees for express delivery are reasonable, they will not be deemed as unusual and are thus incurred, even if there was no specific note stipulating their validity. If such additional fees really weren’t visible anywhere or you were not made aware of the terms and conditions, then you should only pay the actually agreed costs.

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Is it advisable to make an advance payment?

I would normally advise people against making any payments in advance by way of an immediate transfer or advance payment. And for good reason, because if the goods are defective or not delivered, you will have to chase the money you have already paid – this is time-consuming and exhausting. The risk of this happening with major and established suppliers is obviously lower. 

Is there also a quality label for online shops?

Yes, the Swiss Mail Order Association, for example, works with the Swiss Online Garantie quality label. The quality label stands for a 14-day right to return goods for consumers, purchasing under Swiss laws (duty paid, taxed, no additional costs) and compliance with a code of ethics. Other reputable quality labels are Trusted Shops Guarantee, EHI Geprüfter Online-Shop and Safer Shopping TÜV Süd. 

«I would normally advise people against making any payments in advance by way of an immediate transfer or advance payment.»

Leo Loosli, legal expert at AXA-ARAG

I never read the terms and conditions. Could that be my undoing?

Unfortunately yes. The terms and conditions often contain relevant contractual conditions that are accepted when you check a checkbox and become part of the actual contractual content. Specifically, you should always read very carefully the conditions for returning goods, payment terms, delivery costs and deadlines, even if this is tiresome and time-consuming – and online shopping in particular is supposed to be a quick process.

I ordered some products from China, but they haven’t arrived. What can I do?

If orders from the restricted area in China (or another country) are delayed due to force majeure, the debtor is not liable for the delay. This rule also applies to distributors, but only if there is a corresponding contractual basis. If distributors are unable to deliver on time, you should cancel the order if possible, or change to another supplier. Any additional costs must be borne by the distributor.

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