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Rights and responsibilities

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Sixty three per cent of UK adults now shop online, research carried out by the Office of Fair Trading in 2011 shows, with more than half shopping online several times a month, spending on average more than £400 a year.

Great news for business if customers’ purchases go smoothly. But what if something goes wrong? What do customers expect – and are their expectations correct? What can businesses do to stay within the law?

The OFT’s research showed that shoppers’ understanding of their rights when buying at a distance varies considerably.

Most consumers are aware of their right to cancel if they change their mind about a purchase. However, many mistakenly believe they are entitled to take longer to cancel than is actually the case. Buyers legally have seven days to cancel a purchase – but on average, they believe they have 15 days.

Fewer than one in four online shoppers had exercised their right to cancel, but one in three of those did not receive the full refund they were entitled to. The most frequent problem was the original delivery cost not being refunded, followed by being charged a fee for cancellation.

Other common problems relate to hidden charges, particularly for delivery, not finding the seller’s email address, or not finding information about the right to cancel on a retailer’s website – information that the law says must be clearly displayed.

So where can businesses get the information they need to stay within the law, and protect their reputation with their customers?

The OFT has created two hubs offering clear, simple information about consumer legislation. The DS (Distance Selling) hub explains the rules for selling at a distance. Meanwhile the SOGA hub offers information about the Sale of Goods Act.

During March, the OFT is undertaking a push to educate consumers about their rights, so retailers can soon expect customers to have a better idea of what to expect. And for those whose expectations still aren’t quite right, the tools in our hubs can help you give your customers the correct picture.

Feedback from hub users so far has been positive. One retailer reported that ‘customer feedback service levels have improved since we started using it’, and another said ‘(staff) feel more able to deal with a situation themselves… They have a printed copy of Explained on their desk and there are also modules on DSRs (distance selling regulations) built into their training’.

Knowing what the law expects can help to protect your reputation, and keep your customers happy.

About the Distance Selling hub

• Explains what regulations apply and when

• Provides information to give to customers

• Outlines customers’ rights

• Includes a checklist to make sure you’re complying with the law

Visit for access to all these tools, and to sign up for more information.

About the Sale of Goods Act hub

• Explains the Act at a glance and in more detail

• Provides information to give to customers

• Includes training sessions for staff and a quiz to test your knowledge

• Sets out example scenarios

Visit for access to all these tools, and to sign up for more information as and when it’s published.

Shoppers’ rights

The Sale of Goods Act says items must be:

• As described

• Of satisfactory quality

• Fit for purpose

When buying at a distance shoppers also have other rights under law on distance selling, including rights to:

• Information about the trader, the goods and services and their rights before they buy

• Prompt written confirmation of this information and of their cancellation rights

• A cancellation period starting from the moment of purchase until seven working days after goods are received, or seven working days after concluding a contract for services, unless the written information arrived late, in which case time does not start running until then.

• A full refund on cancellation, including standard delivery charges, to be paid as soon as possible but at least within 30 days

• Goods being delivered or services being provided within 30 days of the date of the order (unless agreed otherwise), and if not, a full refund within 30 days.

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