PC Advisor explains the selling regulations that exist to protect your purchase online, and what to do if you are unhappy with a product you have purchased over the web.

The purchase of goods and services over the internet, by phone or mail order, is subject to the same consumer rights as if you had bought the item on the high street. However, because you weren't physically face-to-face with the supplier, these purchases are also subject to Distance Selling Regulations.

If no date is specified, delivery of goods or the commencement of a service must occur within 30 days of the order being placed. If the goods don't arrive in this period, you are within your rights to cancel the order and demand a full refund.

How to shop safely online: Fit for purpose

All purchased goods are required to "conform to contract". They must be as described, fit for purpose and of satisfactory quality – in other words, not inherently faulty at the time of sale. It is the seller, not the manufacturer, who is responsible when goods do not conform to contract. A consumer is then able to request a repair or replacement.

If the goods are faulty, incorrectly described or not fit for purpose, then you are entitled to your money back – provided that you act quickly. You don't have to accept a credit note.

How to shop safely online: Necessary replacement

If the retailer claims that a repair is "disproportionately costly" and insists on a replacement, you must accept this decision. If, on the other hand, a replacement is said to be "disproportionately costly", you must accept a repair. Remember that any remedy must be carried out "without significant inconvenience" and within a "reasonable time" for the consumer.
You could, of course, seek damages instead – in fact, the trader could be liable to compensate you for up to six years.

How to shop safely online: 'All goods should last six years'

Not true. Six years is the time limit for bringing a court case against a retailer in England and Wales. In Scotland, you are required to do so within five years of the time of discovery. An item only needs to last as long as is reasonably expected, taking all factors into account. For example, an oil filter wouldn’t usually last longer than a year, but that wouldn’t mean it was unsatisfactory.

Those purchasing goods by credit card over the value of £100 are also protected by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974: if the seller fails to honour the contract, they can claim costs from the credit-card company.

According to the Sale and Supply of Goods to Consumers Regulations 2002, the goods remain at the seller's risk until they are delivered to the consumer. Thus, the supplier is liable should the goods not arrive.

How to shop safely online: What if there's a problem?

First, ask the supplier to put things right. Put your complaint in writing.

If you want to give an item back and get your money back, under the Sale of Goods Act you have the right to 'reject' an item that is not of 'satisfactory quality'. But you must act quickly: you have only a limited time – usually a few weeks – to reject something.

Under the Sale of Goods Act, if something is not of 'satisfactory quality', you have the right to have it replaced or repaired free.

You can ask the retailer to do either, but it is allowed to choose the cheaper option.

If the retailer refuses to repair the goods, you may have the right to arrange for someone else to repair it and then claim compensation from the retailer. For more advice, visit the PC Advisor Consumerwatch Forum.

If it can neither repair or replace the item, you can either have your money back minus an amount for the use you have had of it, or keep the item and get a reduction on the price you paid.

Remember: you have six years (or five in Scotland) to take a claim to court, so there's plenty of time to resolve the issue.

See also: PC Advisor's Christmas 2010 gift guide