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Buying by Mail Order

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 13 Apr 2015 | comments*Discuss
Consumer Rights Mail Order Internet

Mail order has long been a popular way of buying items. It can be from ads in the newspaper or magazines, a catalogue, or even online. But is it a safe way of buying goods?

Basic Rights

When you buy via mail order, for the most part you're covered by the same Sale of Goods laws that apply when you buy something in a shop. Those laws say that whatever item you're buying must "fit the description given of it," be of "a satisfactory quality," be "fit for the purpose for which it was intended," match whatever sample you were shown beforehand, and come with reasonable instructions for installation or assembly, if necessary.

If there's a fault, then you just return the item to the retailer, who refunds your money, replaces the item or repairs it. This also applies to sale items (the exception being if you were informed beforehand of any faults), and also to second-hand goods (making allowances for the price and a lower quality expectation).

Mail Order Rights

You get extra protection from the Distance Selling Regulations when you buy via mail order, and it covers items bought from anywhere in the E.U. Before you buy, not only must the retailer give you the full price, including any tax and charges for postage and packing, but also the supplier's name and address.

Additionally, the retailer must tell you in writing (an e-mail qualifies) how to cancel your order, how you can return your item, and also give you the details of any guarantee that applies.

Unless you and the seller agree otherwise, the retailer has 30 days in which to deliver the goods. If that proves impossible, they must given you the choice to cancel your order and get a full refund.

Be aware, though, that these regulations don't apply to everything you buy through mail order. There are other rules to cover holidays and some financial services. They also don't apply when you use mail order for things like accommodation, where your order is for a particular date. Likewise, they don't cover goods you bought from an auction or from outside the E.U.

If the goods arrive damaged or prove to be quite different from the description you were given, you have exactly the same rights to a refund, replacement or repair as if you'd bought the goods in a shop.

Cooling-Off Period

In most cases, you also have a seven-day cooling-off period, and in that time you're free to cancel your order without having to pay anything. This begins when you receive the item. However, once again there are exceptions. You can't cancel anything made to order, nor does it apply to newspapers, perishable goods, or software. You can't return any video or audio recordings where you've broken the seal.

Regarding services you've ordered by mail, the seven-day cooling-off period begins when you place your order. However, if the work is due to start within that seven-day period, as long as you've been informed about your rights beforehand (in writing), your right to cancel stops when the work begins.

The retailer has to protect your credit card details from fraudulent use. Remember, too, that it's the seller who's responsible for any losses or damage in transit. If the contract says that it's your responsibility, it's wrong.


If you have problems with mail order goods that you can't resolve with the seller, you should get in touch with the Mail Order Traders' Association (020 7735 3410), the Direct Marketing Association (020 7291 3300) or the Advertising Standards Authority (020 7580 5555).

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@don't have one. It could have been an error in their systems. The fact that they are ignoring your complaints should be followed up by the Finance Ombudsman or Trading Standards.
ConsumerRightsExpert - 15-Apr-15 @ 9:34 AM
I bought a car through a finance company. The Agreement is now at an end but the finance company have not credited all my payments despite sending them on 3 occasions my bank statements as proof of payment.Now about to send them for the 4th time bank statements showing that the uncredited payments have been made and a terse letter to the Complaints Department. By not crediting my account accordingly is this fraud?
don't have one - 13-Apr-15 @ 8:42 AM
@josh. If those were the words and there were no additional caveats then we guess you can do what you like with the original one. Honesty would compel us to offer it back, but their systems will probably have it recorded as written off.
ConsumerRightsExpert - 24-Oct-14 @ 2:08 PM
Advice please ~ I ordered a stereo system from major supplier ~ they offered next day pick up from local supermarket ~ 4 days later still no stereo despite numerous phone calls etc to Customer Services ~ finally declared lost by supplier and very apologetically ordered me a new unit which would and did arrive next day ~ contacted supplier who also gave me a "goodwill gesture following their poor service" ~ They sent me an e-mail identifying new order # and also adding the words against the old order ..."Customer to dispose of product as they wish".... Today i received another text to go to the pick up point where the original unit was waiting for me!! Can you advise me of my consumer rights especially in light of "dispose instructions? Thanks
Josh - 23-Oct-14 @ 12:26 PM
hi my son has just bought an exhaust online(paid by debit card) and delivery card(ukmail) was left saying ,left behind gate (mon 1st),when we returned home nothing was there,sent ukmail an email on Tues but didn't hear anything so rang them on Fri but they didn't now anything about parcel as delivery driver hadn't put consignment number on card so they told me to deal with seller.I contacted them and they offered replacement but had to refuse as going away on Tues + needed exhaust for m.o.t on Mon + asked for a refund then i received 2 more emails off them saying that the chap from ukmail will be losing his job as he left it without a signature + he's coming back to show me where he left it.They said if its lost the police will have to be contacted,which isn't a problem but as i've got no exhaust and £150 out of pocket,I would have thought that they would reimburse me then they claim it off the delivery company(this is what i do when selling via ebay),But when i've now gone on there website it says We cannot be held responsible for lost or damaged packages.Where do i stand,thanks,
anniegeturegun - 7-Oct-12 @ 7:28 PM
Hi,i ordered a sofa thought an interior design shop near my home.They have an account with a sofa company and they offered me a discount to go through them instead or directly to the sofa company.(obviously they get commission from the sofa company). I explained the sofa I wanted and how I wanted upholstering, however when they placed the order they were not specific enought and the sofa was upholstered incorrectly. The sofa company is saying that they are not liable to correct the mistake as the order was placed by the interior design shop incorrectly.They do not, however seem to accept liability either and are looking for me to pay to get the sofa reupholstered. I do not see how this is my fault as I explained what I wanted to the interiors design shop correctly and had i gone directly to the sofa company this mistake would never have happened. What are my rights for getting the sofa corrected?Who is responsible for paying to get it fixed? Thanks
Eon - 2-Sep-12 @ 6:28 PM
Why do online retailers request a date of birth?Surely they only need to know that a purchaser is over 18 years.Is it illegal to give false date of birth to protect personal identity?
Jemma R. - 28-Aug-12 @ 5:48 PM
i have recently bought some bags of dog food off an internet company, i ordered and payed for it at same time, 2 days later i recieved an email saying the price i bought them for was wrong, there fore because it was supposed to be dearer they have cancelled my order and are refunding me, can they do this, i find it very unfair.
lisa - 14-Aug-12 @ 5:57 PM
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