Australia: Smart Christmas shopping advice from the ACCC - for a positive online shopping experience

Last Updated: 27 December 2013
Article by Jenna Scott and Shane Williamson

In the lead up to Christmas the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission ("ACCC") has produced a media release advising consumers to be aware of their rights during this busy shopping period.

In particular the ACCC warns consumers of the pitfalls of online shopping scams, ACCC Deputy Chair, Delia Rickard, providing the following advice to ensure a positive online shopping experience:

"Online shopping can bring consumers many benefits such as wider choice, savings in time, and potentially savings in costs as well. But it can also be confusing as consumers navigate unfamiliar selling platforms such as online auctions, figure out which reviews to trust, and try to pay securely.

All of your usual rights and obligations under the Australian Consumer Law ("ACL") apply when you shop with an Australian online business, including your right to a repair, replacement or refund. These rights may also apply when you buy from an overseas online business however you may experience difficulties enforcing them."

The ACCC also offers the following tips for consumers who shop online:

  1. Research and shop around – have you compared products and prices for sale on other sites? Do you know the total price including delivery charges? How long will it take to receive your purchase? Do they provide FAQs and other tips on safety requirements or other purchase issues?
  2. Know who you are dealing with – is the business trusted and reliable? What do other consumers say about the business or the product/service? Does the business provide legitimate contact details?
  3. Make sure you choose what's right for you – price alone should not be the driving factor in making a decision about which business to buy from. There are many factors to keep in mind – is the quality ok? Does it meet Australian standards? How easy will it be to return if something goes wrong? What's the business' customer service like?
  4. Keep your personal details private and secure – does the business have a privacy policy in place? Only pay via secure payment methods such as a credit card or similar secure method – when you go to make a purchase, does the web address start with 'https' and can you see a closed padlock symbol? If the only way to pay for something is via money order or wire transfer, think twice as there is a chance that you are being scammed.
  5. If a problem arises – how easy will it be to right a wrong? What do you have to do to return the product if it's unsafe, doesn't meet its intended purpose or is not what you expected? Does the business have a good complaints resolution process in place?

For those who have not opted to shop online, a handy tool to help guarantee refunds and returns over Christmas is the ACCC's free "ACCC Shopper app" compatible with Apple and Android smart phones and tablets. The app provides consumers with instant advice while shopping, answering commonly asked questions about refunds, returns, warranties, and lay-buys, such as 'what do I do if a product is faulty?' and 'what happens if I don't have a receipt?'

The app allows consumers to store photographs of receipts as proof of purchase at the point of sale. Ms Rickard said that the app "will help to take the worry out of Christmas shopping" with "simple disputes over returns, refunds or replacements often leaving shoppers confused about their rights".

The ACL provides strong protection against faulty products outside of any 'warranty period' provided by a retailer and the app provides simple advice on those consumer rights.

Retailers should also take extra care to ensure that they are abiding by their obligations under the ACL.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Jenna Scott
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