With governments around the world keeping shops closed and people at home, it’s no surprise that it has been announced that Amazon founder and CEO, Jeff Bezos, is on track to become the world’s first trillionaire, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. As many consumers turn to the online shops, we look at consumer rights in the online sphere.

Goods that are faulty/not as expected

Goods are required to be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and match any description provided. By ‘satisfactory quality’ it is meant that the product is free from faults, even minor ones and reasonably durable (how long it should last will depend on the type of product).

If goods are not so, there is a 30-day period during which the product may be returned for a full refund. After this 30-day period, the consumer is entitled to ask the retailer to repair or replace the goods. If this is unsuccessful, the consumer can claim a refund, or a reduction in price.

However, this right only occurs if the product was not of satisfactory quality (or fit for purpose) at the time of purchase. If the fault occurs within six months of purchase, it is presumed that this is the case (unless the retailer can prove otherwise). Otherwise, the retailer can require evidence.

Goods purchased on an online marketplace

The position when buying through an online marketplace depends on whether the seller is a business or an individual. Where the seller is a business, the position is the same as any other online purchase (subject to the terms and conditions of the site, which may, in fact, offer greater protection). Where the seller is an individual, there are less obligations on the seller. For example, while the goods must be as described, there is no obligation to make any faults or damage clear.

Cancelling an online order

The ‘cooling off’ period in consumer contracts begins at the moment the order is placed and ends 14 days after the goods have been received. During this period, consumers have a right to cancel their order. This, however, does not apply to goods which have a seal for health protection, which has been broken, or goods that have been made bespoke or personalised.

If a service is purchased online, there is still at 14 day cooling off period, even if the service has already begun. However, if the service has already begun at the date of cancellation, there may be charges for any benefit the consumer has received. If the service has been completed before the date of cancellation, there is no right to cancel, and the full payment will be due.

However, if what has been purchased is tickets for an event, to be taken on a specific date or within a specific period of time, there is no right to cancel. We have discussed consumer rights in respect of events affected by COVID-19 in a previous blog.

Returning goods

Consumers have a right to return goods within the cooling off period. This period is often extended by online retailers’ terms and conditions. In an online purchase, there is greater scope for obtaining a refund. This is intended to reflect the fact that an online purchaser has made the purchase from a photo and short description, so what arrives may not be what was expected. Once goods have been returned, the retailer should refund the cost of the goods together with standard postage charge (any extra special delivery costs won’t be refunded, presuming the goods arrived on time). The consumer may, however, be required to pay the postage costs of the return.


If no date has been agreed, deliveries should be made within 30 days.

The retailer is responsible for the goods until such time as they are delivered. If the retailer designates a ‘safe place’ or neighbour with whom goods can be left, the retailer is no longer responsible for the goods once they have been delivered to that place.

If you are a business that requires advice on how to deal with claims from consumers, or are a consumer that requires advice about a potential claim, Brodies can help, please get in touch.