Monday 5 December 2016

What are my rights if I order Christmas gifts online now - and they fail to arrive on time?

Fergal O'Leary

Published 20/11/2016 | 02:30

'If you had bought the same item from an EU website and had been guaranteed a pre-Christmas delivery and the item had not arrived by this date, you could have cancelled the order.' Photo: Depositphotos
'If you had bought the same item from an EU website and had been guaranteed a pre-Christmas delivery and the item had not arrived by this date, you could have cancelled the order.' Photo: Depositphotos

Last year I ordered from a Chinese website which guaranteed a pre-Christmas delivery. Despite ordering five weeks before Christmas, a number of my items did not arrive until January. Do websites not have to stick to their advertised delivery dates? This has made me reluctant to shop online this year in case the same thing happens again.

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Fergal, Youghal, Co Cork

Buying online can be very convenient, with access to so many sites at the click of a button. However, it is important to know that your consumer rights online differ depending on where the site you are buying from is based.

You do not have the same level of protection if you buy from a website outside of the EU - so before you buy anything, try to find a physical address on the website to see where it is based. Also make sure to read the terms and conditions carefully and check what the site's returns policy is.

As the website you bought from last year was based in China, you do not have the same protections you would have if you bought from an EU-based site, so your only option last year was to follow up with the website directly about your delayed order. If you had bought the same item from an EU website and had been guaranteed a pre-Christmas delivery and the item had not arrived by this date, you could have cancelled the order. The seller would have had to refund you any money that you had paid for the item within 14 days.

When you buy online from an EU website, you are given a cooling-off period of 14 days. This starts once you have received the item and it means you have the right to cancel and return the order for any reason within this 14-day period - even if you just change your mind. If you pay for something online using your debit or credit card and the item is not delivered, your card provider may agree to reverse the transaction so you can get a refund.

This is called a chargeback and gives you some reassurance when you are shopping online. You will need to check with your card provider about the terms and conditions of the chargeback scheme of your credit or debit cards. You can find out more about the protection you have when you buy online at the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission's (CCPC) consumer website - consumerhelp.ie.

After much nagging from my teenagers, I am giving in and getting them smartphones for Christmas. They will be taking the phones to school so I was wondering if I should buy gadget insurance in case the phones are stolen or get broken. The shop that sells the phones also offers gadget insurance - what would you advise?

Mary, Clonmel, Co Tipperary

I am sure a lot of parents will empathise with you on the strength of pester power from children in the run up to Christmas. When you buy expensive electronic equipment for yourself or your family, it makes sense to want to protect yourself.

However, it's important to remember in the first instance that if the product develops a fault after you buy it, you have statutory consumer rights. Insurance for electronic goods such mobile phones can be quite expensive when compared with the cost of the item itself so there are a few things to think about before you sign up to any policy.

Remember, if you buy insurance from a shop, the shop assistant is probably earning commission from the sale so it is in their interest to convince you that you need the insurance.

Find out what, if any, cover you may have already under your existing home or contents insurance policy. All-risks cover is an optional extra under most home insurance policies and protects you against loss or theft of, or accidental damage to, personal belongings both inside and outside of the home. If you have all-risks cover, check exactly what is covered and ask your insurance provider about any exclusions. Find out if there is an excess (the first part of a claim you must pay yourself) to pay on the policy if you make a claim - and consider the implications of that.

Ask your insurance company what it would cost to insure the phones under your home insurance and then compare this with any other insurance product you are considering. Check the excesses and exclusions and weigh up how likely your children are to lose or damage their phones - and the worst-case-scenario cost of replacing the phones.

Last year I threw caution to the wind and used my credit card to pay for Christmas. It has taken me until now to fully repay the bill and I don't want to make the same mistake again. I am buying on a budget this year. How can I get the presents I need without getting into debt?

Josh, Howth, Co Dublin

If you're trying to stick to a budget for your Christmas shopping, leave the credit card at home and bring cash or your debit card instead. Credit card debt can be very expensive as the interest rates are high. When you are spending the cash in your pocket or in your bank account, you are less likely to overspend than if you pay with a credit card. Try not to withdraw large amounts of cash as it can leave you vulnerable to theft, and check if you will have to pay bank charges for debit card transactions.

List everyone that you intend to buy for and then budget a reasonable amount that you can afford to spend on each person. Making a shopping list will help you avoid impulse buying and keep track of your spending. The Christmas budget planner on consumerhelp.ie can help you plan for and keep track of all your expenses

Avoid shopping at the last minute and arrange to go shopping when it's quieter. Shops are a lot quieter late at night or first thing in the morning. Leaving yourself plenty of time and avoiding busy shopping times will make your Christmas shopping a bit easier.

You could agree a spending limit with your friends and family or try an option like a Secret Santa, so each person only has to buy one present. Or, if there is a special item that you really want to give to someone, consider splitting the cost with a friend or relative. Keep an eye out for coupons or deals on gifts wherever you can.

If you have a present in mind, compare prices, both in store and online. Keep your eye out for discounts and promotional offers. If you plan to do some shopping online, be careful. What might seem like a great deal could be more expensive when you add on delivery charges, so be sure to take them into account. Make sure you leave plenty of time for delivery too.

Finally, be realistic with your food shopping. It can be easy to buy more than you need, but bear in mind that most shops are only closed on Christmas Day and New Year's Day, so there's no need to go overboard.

Member of Competition and Consumer Protection Commission

Sunday Indo Business

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