Knowing a few great tips for ensuring your online purchases are safe can make a world of difference in your online shopping experiences. This guide provides three really important ones for you to keep in mind: researching the seller, researching relevant policies, and knowing your rights.
- Research the seller
Our first tip for ensuring your online purchases are safe is to research the seller. There is more scope for deception and unlawful behaviour online compared to the physical world. Therefore, we recommend that you check a few key things about an online seller before buying from them.
- Firstly, check if any associated physical presence is legitimate. Physical store addresses or phone numbers are typically provided through an online seller’s website.
- Secondly, note the website name of the online seller. Website names ending with ‘.com.au’ are reserved for business/commercial use. As such, sellers actually have to prove a sufficient business link to use that ending. Additionally, website security can be indicated by a little lock next to their name or through the use of ‘https’.
- If you are still worried and don’t want to rely on the website name, then try to look up their Australian Business Number (‘ABN’). All businesses in Australia must have an ABN. You can search for ABNs on the Australian Business Register (‘ABR’) by business name.
- Read the policies
Another great tip for ensuring your online purchases are safe is to research relevant policies. We recommend checking out both the seller’s policies, as well as the policies of any intermediaries the seller is using.
The first thing to check is the seller’s delivery and refund policies. A lot of online sellers make this information available to consumers to help with the logistics of their business. It allows consumers to understand how and when their purchases will get to them without needing to contact the seller. However, more importantly, these policies often actually reflect Australian legal obligations in respect of the availability of adequate repairs and modifications avenues for defective goods (see ‘Know your rights’ below).
Often, sellers will use intermediaries like social media or online payments services in connection with their website. These intermediaries often impose obligations on sellers to use them appropriately. As they are really helpful in improving efficiency, online sellers won’t want to be caught breaching these obligations. For example, Facebook and Instagram’s commerce policy lists a number goods which cannot be sold through their platforms. These goods include things like alcohol, currency, or subscriptions for digital content. Therefore, a suspicion that a seller is offering prohibited goods through social media is a pretty good reason to avoid them. Additionally, many online payments services have acceptable use policies. For example, PayPal prevents the use of their services in breach of consumer laws (see ‘Know your rights’ below), and any breaches of this policy can be reported to PayPal directly. Therefore, if possible, it’s always a good idea to use a reputable payment intermediary for extra security.
- Know your rights
While our first two tips are proactive ways to ensure your online purchases are safe, they are not foolproof. Therefore, it’s important to know your rights as a consumer and the associated remedies for breach of those rights.
Consumer rights are largely afforded through the Australian Consumer Law (‘ACL’) in the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 (Cth). Specifically, the ACL provides nine guarantees which are made regarding goods sold in trade or commerce and bought by consumers. The legislation is pretty complex, but fortunately, these guarantees are set out on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (‘ACCC’) website. They include, for example, the guarantee that goods are of an acceptable quality. This protects against the selling of defective goods. Additionally, there is a guarantee that goods comply with any associated description. This would ensure, for example, that when you buy a size 12 shoe, it is actually that size.
A breach of consumer rights can entitle you to remedies under the law. These remedies include requiring the seller to fix the breach (such as by repairing or replacing defective goods) or recovering the cost of the goods or any repairs or replacements you make yourself. However, legal enforcement should be your last resort. The guarantees and associated remedies are meant to deter breaches in the first place. This is why the ACCC recommends contacting the seller first and asking them to remedy the breach of their own accord. Moreover, despite online sellers having a more remote presence from consumers, it’s pretty safe to assume traditional conventions of customer service still operate. Therefore, they are likely to want to help you out. In any case, if they persist in breaching your consumer rights, you can make a complaint to the ACCC or even hire a lawyer to see what your options are.
In conclusion, when buying online, you should always check a seller’s physical store address, website name, and even their ABN. Additionally, you should check a seller’s delivery and returns policy, as well as the policies of any intermediaries they use. Finally, check out your rights under the ACL and don’t be afraid to let an online seller know if they are breaching them. Hopefully these tips go a long way in improving your online shopping experience and if anything goes terribly wrong, chat to a lawyer for further advice.
Lawpath is Australia’s leading provider of online legal services for businesses and individuals, providing technology powered legal solutions at a fraction of the time, cost and complexity of the traditional system.
About the author:
Beulah is a Legal Tech Intern at Lawpath. He is in his final year at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). He is interested in disruptive technologies in the legal industry and intellectual property law.