Online shopping: who are the saints and sinners?
Do you know your rights when it comes to returning goods you bought online or by post? You should because half of the 20 major retailers we looked at don't seem to, potentially costing consumers millions of pounds each year.
Whether it's a new £4,000 ultra HD television, a washing machine or a swanky coffee machine, most of us are happy to buy products over the internet or the phone for convenience or to save money. But what if, when it's delivered, the item isn't quite what you expected or you've simply changed your mind and don't want it anymore?
For once, it's not a case of 'tough luck', as you have considerable cancellation rights if you order and pay for most types of goods and services away from the retailer's premises.
Know your rights
The Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 is a bit of a mouthful. Yet it's worth chewing on. This piece of legislation replaces the Distance Selling Regulations and Doorstep Selling Regulations, and has increased the rights we all have when it comes to rejecting goods purchased online, at a distance, or away from a trader's premises.
Before these regulations came in last April, you only had seven working days after receiving most goods to tell the retailer you wanted to return an item you'd ordered. Now you have up to 14 days from the day after delivery to cancel an item, and a further 14 days to return it. You don't have to give a reason. The retailer has 14 days from receiving the returned item – or receiving proof that you sent it - to reimburse you.
The good, the bad and the could do better
We analysed the returns policies of 20 leading retailers, from All Saints to Zara, and found that, despite having almost a year to amend their websites, 10 were potentially in breach of the Consumer Contracts Regulations (CCRs), meaning they were misleading their customers and potentially costing them money.
Here's who failed the test.
When we checked in February 2015, All Saints was more of a sinner in our book. The clothes retailer states that you'll get a full refund if you send back your item within 14 days, while articles received after this period will entitle you to a gift card that is valid for six months. Items received after 28 days will 'be sent back to you'.
All Saints also refers to the Distance Selling Regulations as being in place, despite this legislation being replaced by the CCRs last April. The retailer's website states: "The Distance Selling Regulations are in place to protect the rights of our friends in the EU. You have seven working days from the moment you placed your order to cancel it."
Banana Republic is also potentially breaching the CCRs as it insists: "You can return unwashed and unworn products bought in the UK on this website by mail... within 30 days of your order date." This isn't right, as the retailer can't guarantee how many days it will take for an item to be delivered to customers – or returned. Under the law, the customer has up to 14 days after delivery to cancel, and a further 14 days to return the goods.
Reiss falls the test too, as it requires customers to return items sooner than CCRs require. Its terms and conditions state: "The parcel can take up to seven working days to reach us therefore we recommend that you send items back within seven days of receipt to ensure the goods arrive to us within 14 days of receipt, so we can process your refund."
Zara's returns policy includes the following information, which gives customers fewer rights than are permitted: "All returns must be made within one month of the e-mail confirming shipment."
Of course, the regulations allow you up to 14 days from the day after delivery to inform the provider you want a refund, for any reason. After this you have a further 14 days to return them, so both Reiss and Zara appear to be failing to conform to the requirements of these vital regulations.
Argos and Homebase
Argos and Homebase failed to make the mark when it came to returning digital goods, claiming the CCRs didn't apply to "sealed audio or video recordings or computer software".
Wrong. The government has even published advice to retailers which covers this issue and states that refunds must be allowed, "in the case of a contract for the supply of sealed audio or sealed video recordings or sealed computer software, if the goods become unsealed after delivery".
Currys wins no favour with its policy wording as customers have up to 14 days from the day after the day of delivery, rather than the date of purchase, to cancel a transaction purchased via the site. This is followed by a further 14 days to return.
But its returns policy states: "An unwanted product can be returned within 21 days of delivery as long as it's still in original, unopened packaging." There is no requirement under the CCRs to return goods in their packaging.
Incidentally, the site's returns and cancellation policy includes the following valiant attempt at English: "We cannot return unwanted items after 21 days of purchase, nor can we return items that have been used."
Customers have up to 14 days from the day after delivery, rather than the date of purchase to cancel a transaction purchased via the site, followed by a further 14 days to return.
We don't believe Currys can legitimately keep hold of items that have been sent to it after 21 days. If a customer has used a purchase, Currys seems to imply it's the customer's property, so surely the retailer must return it? Otherwise, to keep the refund or the product might be considered theft.
Monsoon's returns policy doesn't hold water. It requires customers to return unwanted goods within 28 days of receipt. In fact, the CCRs give people 14 days from the day after receipt of the goods to cancel and a further 14 days to return them. So they are one day short
of the allowed number of days.
Also, Monsoon's policy states customers should allow up to 28 days from the day items are returned to get a refund. Government guidance on these regulations maintains: "Traders must refund within 14 days of cancellation of service contract or receipt of goods (or of evidence of the consumer returning them)."
The retailers’ response
We contacted all of the companies that were, in our view, potentially in breach of the CCRs. All Saints, Argos, Homebase, House of Fraser and Reiss all confirmed they comply with the new regulations, however they all also admitted their websites had not been updated to reflect the new legal requirements.
They have pledged to amend the sites to ensure no customer could be given the wrong information. Of the other retailers, only Currys responded, simply stating it complied with the Regulations (although we can find no requirement for goods to be returned in their original packaging).
Who’s doing the right thing?
While we believe 10 of the major retailers are potentially breaching the CCRs, the same number appeared to be playing by the rules, which – to recap – include the following:
- You are entitled to return most goods from up to 14 days after the delivery day. However, note that many financial products, personalised items, underwear, earrings and items that will perish are not covered by the CCRs.
- Once you have informed the retailer of your intention to return the items, you have up to a further 14 days to return the goods.
- You should get refunded within 14 days of the retailer receiving the returned goods or getting proof that you sent the items in question. Essentially, this means your right to cancel an order for goods starts the moment you place your order and ends 14 days from the day you receive it.
- However, your right to cancel a service contract made online, such as gym membership, starts the moment you enter into the contract and lasts 14 days.
- Certain digital content and some financial products are excluded, as you can use them during this period.
- Also, you can't be charged for items that a retailer puts in your shopping basket, perhaps by pre- ticking a box indicating they will be included.
The 10 who we felt were following the rules were: B&Q, BHS, Debenhams, Dorothy Perkins, IKEA, John Lewis, M&S, Next, Topshop and Wickes.
To take one example of good practice, Ikea offers a returns period of 365 days. This includes assembled items - if they are not damaged. Delivery costs will be covered by the retailer if the items are cancelled within 14 days. Given Ikea is thriving, its generous approach is clearly welcome.