Consumer Rights in the Age of Online Shopping

A notable feature of the coronavirus pandemic has been the surge in online purchases. The demise of high-street retail giants would seem to indicate that this trend will continue. So, what are your rights if you are making purchases online?

The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013

The Consumer Contracts Regulations deal with purchases you make where you are not physically present at the point you enter into the contract. This will include some other types of transactions but for this article we will be talking specifically about online transactions.

Before you buy

The online retailer is required by the Consumer Contracts Regulations to provide you with the following information up front (before you conclude the contract):

  • Their trading name
  • The main characteristics of the goods
  • The total price of the goods including all taxes (no hidden charges allowed)
  • Delivery/any other applicable costs
  • Your rights to cancel, time limits and procedures for cancellation

Think of this as the who, what, when and how (and how much!) of the agreement. Consider when you are purchasing whether have you been told who you are dealing with, what exactly you are purchasing, when can you expect to receive it and how much will you be paying.

Changing your mind

The Consumer Contracts Regulations recognise that you make online purchases without the benefit of being able to test an item’s feel, scale or quality in the way that you would if you were in a conventional retail environment. That’s why cancellation or ‘cooling off’ rights are an important feature of the Regulations. You are entitled to cancel an online order simply because you have changed your mind – you don’t have to give a reason, although for internal monitoring purposes, a seller may ask you.

If the reason you are returning your goods is because they are faulty, then different regulations apply. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 (CRA) deals with rights to return goods that are not of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or as described.

Your cancellation rights apply from the moment you place your order online, giving you up to 14 days from the day you receive your goods. You must notify the seller of your wish to cancel within this ‘cooling off’ period. If you do, you will have a further 14 days to return the goods, starting from the date you notify them of your cancellation. Some retailers will give you enhanced time periods for returns under their own terms and conditions, so it pays to read them carefully.

Returning your item and getting your refund

Assuming you have notified the seller within the time limit, you will usually be expected to pay to return the goods. However, the seller may agree to pay, for example by enclosing a prepaid returns label. Note that if you’re returning faulty items under the CRA, you should not be required to pay for their return.

You should take care to get proof of postage to prevent the seller from claiming that the item was never returned.

The refund the seller gives you under the Consumer Contracts Regulations should include any postage costs you paid when the item was first sent to you. The refund must be paid to you within 14 days of the goods being returned or the evidence that the goods were returned if that is earlier.

Depending on the nature of the goods, the seller may collect them from you. If so, you are not expected to wait until they have been collected to receive your refund. You should receive it within 14 days of the date you informed the seller of the cancellation, not 14 days from when they collect the item.

If you can, it is always worth considering paying by credit card for items over £100 in value as you will receive the additional protection.


Finally, there are several exemptions from the Consumer Contracts Regulations. Some of the more significant exemptions from the right to cancel include:

  • CDs, DVDs or software if seals and packaging are broken
  • Perishable items
  • Tailor-made or personalised items
  • Items sealed for health and hygiene reasons where those seals are broken.

Passenger transport services are also not covered by the Regulations and so holidays booked online will be subject to different legislation and are an article for another day!


This article is for general guidance purpose only and not intended as legal advice.