• If you live in remote areas or are unable to shop in the traditional manner, online shopping can open up new opportunities.
• Product selection may be greater than in a traditional store.
• You can research a product that you are interested in, find the price, the availability, and if you choose, purchase the item online. You also can choose to use your research to purchase at a local store.
• The Internet is always open: 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
• There are thousands more choices available online than you would find in your local stores, which can be confusing.
• You can spend hours online searching through page after page and still not find what you
are looking for.
• Shopping online includes seeing the product, which means waiting for images to load. Even with a fast modem, this can be a time consuming process.
• Prices may not be better than from a traditional store. (Watch for shipping costs above the quoted price.)
Cookies are bits of information that your browser picks up at Web sites and stores on your hard drive. A cookie often functions as a small digital ID badge. Cookies can be used to track your browsing patterns and allow Web sites to target advertising based on these patterns. Cookies cannot carry viruses. They cannot snoop around your hard drive and gather information about you. They can store information you have provided so the site can be customized for you the next time you visit.
Protecting Your Privacy
Harris Interactive reports that 50 percent of online users in the U.S. feel that they do not have the control they want over how personal information is collected and used by companies.
• Look for the security symbol before giving personal information.
• Provide personal information only if you know who’s collecting it, why, and how it will be used (including if the information will be shared with others)
• Check out the company’s Privacy Statement for your choices about the information you are providing them. Can you opt-out of any information gathering?
• Look for an explanation of how your financial and personal information is safeguarded when it is sent and when the information is stored at the company
Tips for paying online
• Start small.
• Use a separate credit or charge card.
• Keep a printed record of your purchase.
Beware of stock fraud
Scam artists are using e-mail to manipulate stock prices. In one approach, individuals promote the stock via e-mail and then sell after the price has risen. In another approach, individuals distribute false information to depress the price and sell the stock short.
A Harris Interactive survey states that more than 35 million Americans shopped at online auctions in 2000 and 41 percent of those surveyed experienced problems with their online auction purchase. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy and sell at an online auction. Instead, follow these simple rules
• Understand how the auction works
• Check out the seller (is it an individual or business, are they located in the U.S. or in another country?)
• Get a physical address and other identifying information
• Ask about delivery, returns, warranties, and service
• Be wary of claims about collectibles
• Use common sense to guide you
• Pay the safest way (avoid cash; pay with a credit card if possible)
• Consider using an Escrow Service to hold your money
• Let the auction site know if you have a problem and also report any suspected fraud to the Internet Fraud Watch (www. fraud.org/info/repoform.htm The Internet Fraud Watch has a web site on tips to protect yourself from Online auction fraud located at http://www.fraud.org/internet/ inttip/aucttip.htm
Shopping from home
You can buy most goods and services from your own home in lots of ways such as using the internet, over the phone, on TV shopping channels, on your doorstep or from a catalogue. In all these situations you may not be in a shop - but you are still a consumer, and you have rights.
Specific rules apply if you are buying online or buying goods or services on your doorstep. These rules are in addition to your consumer rights.
Unlike in a shop, when you buy something from home, there is a distance between you and the seller. This type of selling is called "distance selling" and there are EU rules on how distance selling works. These rules are additional benefits to your consumer rights when buying goods and help balance out some of the disadvantages of shopping at a distance.
So, if you order goods from home and they are faulty, the same rights apply as if you had bought them in a shop. Or if the seller gives you a false or misleading description of something, you may also be entitled to a refund.
Most ways to shop from home fall under the distance selling rules, such as ordering an item over the phone, buying from a mail order catalogue or buying from a TV shopping channel.
When you agree to buy something through distance selling, you have a ‘distance contract’ with the seller. Before you complete the purchase, the seller must give you specific information in a clear manner:
• The identity of the supplier and their address
• A description of what you are buying
• The price, including any taxes
• The delivery costs if any
• The arrangements for payment and delivery
• Details of how to cancel the order, if this applies
• The cost of ordering by distance selling, where the cost is not already known to you – for example, the cost of a premium rate phone call if you have to order this way
• How long the offer or price remains valid for
• The minimum length of the contract, if it is on an ongoing basis, for example, a digital TV subscription.
Also, you should be given more information either before your order is delivered, or when it is delivered, including:
• Confirmation of your order in a ‘durable form’, for example letter, email or fax, that includes the information listed above
• Written information on how to cancel
• A geographical address where you can send complaints to – not a PO box number
• Details of any guarantees or after-sales services
• Details of how and when to end a contract, if there is no end date or if it lasts for longer than a year
These distance selling rules do not apply to:
• Financial services, like banking or insurance
• Items bought using a public payphone
• Auctions where the seller is another consumer
The 'cooling off' period
When you buy an item by phone or catalogue you are given a "'cooling off; period of at least seven working days starting from the date you received your purchase. Before the end of the seven days you must decide if you want to keep the goods, or cancel the order and return the goods and get a refund.
During this cooling off period you don't have to give a reason for returning the goods. But remember, if you cancel in this way rather than returning faulty goods, you may have to pay for the cost of returning the item.
The 7 working days can be extended to a maximum of three months if the seller fails to give you the information required under Distance Selling Rules.
Things not covered by the 'cooling off' period
Your right to cancel does not apply to certain types of goods and services:
• Customised or perishable goods, for example, a football shirt with your name printed on it
• Newspapers, magazines or periodicals
• Audio or video recordings which has been unsealed or used by the consumer
• Computer software which has been unsealed or used by the consumer
• Gaming or lottery services
• Services which have begun with your consent before the end of the cooling-off period
• Goods or services where the price is determined by price fluctuations on the financial market which are not controlled by the supplier
If you order something and it is not available, the supplier must let you know and refund you within 30 days. A supplier can give you a 'substitute' equivalent product if they don’t have what you ordered originally, but only if you agreed to this in the contract - so read the terms and conditions carefully. If you are not happy with the substitute goods, you can return them.
Faulty goods & refunds
If you buy something through distance selling and it turn out to be faulty, then generally your consumer rights are the same as if you bought it in a shop.
If what you bought is damaged or faulty in any way you should complain to the seller in writing immediately - by email, fax or letter - and ask for a refund or replacement. If you have to return an item because it is faulty, the seller is liable for any return shipping costs.
If the refund is not provided within 30 days of cancellation and you paid for the goods using a credit or debit card, your card provider may agree to reverse the transaction. This is called a chargeback. Contact your provider (the bank or credit card company who issued the card) immediately and give them details of your transaction.
Customs and excise
You legally have to pay import charges like customs or excise duties on items you buy from outside the EU. But you can import consignments of most goods not exceeding a value of €22 from outside the EU without having to pay import charges. Excise duty is also due on alcohol, tobacco, perfume and certain other products imported from the EU.
Value Added Tax (VAT) must also be paid on imported items at the same rate that applies in Ireland for similar goods.