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Caution when Christmas shopping online: where the pitfalls of online shopping lurk

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Buying Christmas presents online is a popular trend. But it doesn’t always go smoothly. Late or even failed deliveries, defects in ordered products, erroneous deliveries, or incorrect invoice amounts are just some of the pitfalls of digital purchases. AXA-ARAG legal expert Gregor Huber shares tips for when things go wrong with your online shopping.

Retailers luring customers with promotions, a long Christmas shopping list, and time running short. Right now there are many good reasons to place orders online. Even though most transactions are completed without a hitch, there are still some risks that lurk in online shopping.

Direct or indirect loss of money the greatest risk in online shopping

One of the most common risks when shopping online is the direct loss of money. This typically happens when the customer pays for something – normally the goods ordered – before receiving them. 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 could crop up include incorrect invoice amounts or disregarded cancellations. In addition, increasing numbers of delayed deliveries are being reported due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Problems with online shopping – legal expert Gregor Huber from AXA-ARAG answers the most important questions.

What are my options if I receive the wrong product or a defective product?
Contact the supplier in writing, lodge a complaint regarding the defect, demand reimbursement or a reduction in the price and send the product back. In the case of damage, it is 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 ensures me that the gift I order will arrive before Christmas but in the end it is 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 expiration date business for which a certain date of performance is agreed, you must allow the debtor a suitable deadline, for example a few days, for subsequent delivery after the original date has expired. Set this date 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 of the gift 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 are 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 now 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 can be set out in a specific contract or in the terms and conditions, which must be acknowledged by the customer prior to the purchase – in most cases by checking the appropriate box when placing the order. 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.

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. This is 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 Guarantee” 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 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 the distributor is 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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