With Christmas around the corner make sure you know your rights when buying from individuals online

Online marketplaces – websites where traders and private individuals list and sell products – can be a great place to find a bargain. With Christmas just a month away, many people will be using them to buy a wide range of gifts or sell unwanted items.

But sometimes, things don’t always go to plan. No one wants to spend the run up to the festive season chasing an undelivered purchase or trying to fix a faulty product.

Know your rights

If you’re buying something from an online trader, someone who sells the goods as part of their business or profession, then your rights are the same as if you were buying it from any other online store.

  • You normally have up to 14 days after receiving your goods to change your mind and get a full refund. There are exceptions though, for example if the item was personalised or made to order.
  • If there is a problem with your item within the first 30 days from when you bought it, you could get a refund, replacement or repair.
  • If it can’t be repaired or replaced then, during the first 6 months in most cases, you are entitled to a full refund.

If you’re buying online from an individual seller, your rights are different and the principle of ‘buyer beware’ applies.

  • Goods have to be how they were described to you by the seller, but the seller doesn’t have to disclose any faults.
  • The seller can’t misrepresent goods though – for example claiming something used is brand new.

What to do if something goes wrong

There are steps you can take if something goes wrong, for example if the item you have bought arrives damaged due to poor packaging. In this case you should take photos straight away to prove it was damaged on delivery.

Whatever the problem though, it’s best to contact the seller first to try to resolve the issue. You should also check the online marketplace’s terms and conditions, which will sometimes offer you extra protections. They may have their own protection and dispute resolution systems.

Some traders belong to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) scheme, which means they offer a way to solve your problem without going to court. You can also consider making a claim to the court – sometimes known as a ‘small claim’. Making a small claim is also an option if you purchased the good from a private seller.

If you paid by card or PayPal, your card provider might be able to help. The Financial Ombudsman Service can help if the problem’s not sorted out by your card provider.  

If you’re selling something online

If you have sold something on an online marketplace, make sure you buy the right postage. If the buyer claims the package has not arrived you will be responsible for providing a refund or replacement unless you have proof the item was successfully delivered, such as a tracking number or customer signature. Proof of posting the item is not sufficient.

Make sure you cover the value of the item you’re posting, so if it gets lost in transit you’re not out of pocket. It can be worth comparing different mail providers. Your insurance may be invalid if the good was packaged improperly or if the good is restricted, prohibited or exempt from any compensation offer, so check the terms and conditions before you buy.

Get more help

Contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 040 506. It’s open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and provides advice on consumer issues. You can also visit us online at www.citizensadvice.org.uk/consumer.