An investigation by Which? has revealed that almost 50 major online retailers were misinforming or failing to provide clear information to shoppers about returns rights on their websites.
The consumer champion assessed the information provided about online returns and faulty goods rights on the websites of 46 popular retailers and supermarkets, finding that 45 failed to offer information that was completely accurate and clear.
As a result of our investigation 10 retailers have since updated their information to clarify the unwanted and faulty goods returns information we highlighted to them. These include Aldi, AO.com, Apple, Ebuyer, Iceland, Lakeland, M&S, Ocado, Tesco Direct and Wiggle.
We found a number of major retailers gave the wrong information on their websites about returning faulty goods and unwanted online purchases. Others failed to make a distinction between their own store returns policies and statutory rights under the Consumer Rights Act and Consumer Contracts Regulations. Some retailers presented misleading information that wrongly encouraged customers to pursue faulty goods claims with warranty providers first. Which? even found one case where we believe the returns policy was unlawful.
Which? is concerned that these policies are contributing to widespread confusion on return rights, faulty goods rights and warranties, leaving many consumers out of pocket.
Examples of bad practice included:
- Iceland – The online returns policy for unwanted goods we looked at incorrectly – and we believe unlawfully – stated it would not accept returns on items bought in error or if a customer had changed their mind.
- Allbeauty, Beauty Bay, Feel Unique – Customers were told they could only return unwanted items if they are unopened. This is an unreasonable generalisation, as the shopper should be able to handle the goods as though they were in a store – unless the item is sealed for hygiene purposes.
- Apple, Beauty Bay, Mac Cosmetics – Displayed the wrong returns information on their websites, offering customers just 14 days to return unwanted goods, when they actually have up to 14 days to cancel from the date they receive the goods and a further 14 days in which to return.
- Morrisons – Had incorrect information on its returns and refunds FAQs which limited the cancellation period for returning unwanted online purchases to seven days for non-perishable products.
- Fragrance Direct, AbeBooks, Waitrose, Costco – Limited the length of time shoppers had to return faulty items without stating in their guide that statutory rights also apply. Which? experts believe that this could be misleading.
A further two retailers – Lego Shop and The Body Shop – made changes to their terms after we reached out and are reviewing the returns information we raised. In addition to the changes it’s already made, Apple told us it intends to update the incorrect information we highlighted on its returns timelines in the next few weeks.
A further seven retailers told us they will be reviewing their returns advice in the coming months.
Which? believes that retailers must do a better job at clarifying statutory rights as separate to online returns policies to promote trust and safeguard consumers from faulty goods.
Alex Neill, Which? Managing Director of Home Products and Services, said:
“As a nation that is increasingly shopping online, it is important that trusted retailers do not mislead consumers about their rights.
“We will continue to challenge those that carry on confusing their customers.”
The system is complicated when it comes to knowing your rights about faulty goods. That’s why Which? has advice on what you’re entitled to when you find out one of your goods is faulty, and can even help you to complain to get a refund, repair, or replacement, for free. Simply visit: which.co.uk/faulty
When buying online, shoppers have stronger rights to send back items they don’t want under the Consumer Contracts Regulations. Our Which? guide explains your online shopping returns and refund rights. Simply visit: which.co.uk/returnsonline
Notes to editor
- Which? investigated the websites of 46 online retailers, to assess whether the information regarding returns rights was clear and accurate.
- We looked at the information retailers provided by searching for advice on their website in the way a shopper is most likely to. We looked at the advice given in returns policies and frequently asked questions and in the terms and conditions if we couldn’t easily find advice elsewhere.
- Although the correct information might have been present somewhere on the site, our findings highlight failings across information pages where a shopper is most likely to search for answers.
- When buying online, shoppers have stronger rights to send back items they don’t want under the Consumer Contracts Regulations. When buying in-store, shoppers are bound to the retailer’s store returns policy.
- Rights to return faulty goods apply in the same way to both in-store and online purchases.
- Misleading conditions for returning faulty goods included pushing shoppers to warranty, requiring items to be returned in original packaging, not accepting the return of faulty personalised items, outlining timelines less than the statutory minimum, and offering different rules for different product categories.
- Some retailers failed to offer any timelines for when you would need to return faulty goods. But Fragrance Direct, AbeBooks, Waitrose and Costco’s terms were labelled by Which? experts as misleading, as they limited the length of time shoppers had to return faulty items without stating in their guide that statutory rights also apply.
- Well-known retailers including Apple, BeautyBay and Mac Cosmetics displayed the wrong returns information on their websites, offering a confused interpretation of the Consumer Contracts Regulations and incorrectly stating that shoppers have 14 days to return items that they no longer want. Under law, customers have up to double that length of time to return unwanted purchases: They can cancel goods at any time from placing an order and up to 14 days from receiving their goods. They then have a further 14 days from the date they notify the retailer in which return them.
- Morrisons had incorrect information on its returns and refunds FAQs which limited the cancellation period to seven days for non-perishable products.
- Iceland told us: “We do not accept that the returns policy previously outlined on our website was unlawful, but we concede that it was insufficiently detailed and were happy to expand it as soon as this was requested. We are grateful to Which? for drawing this issue to our attention.”