What are my rights when I buy from an online retailer?
When you buy online your rights depend a lot on whether you buy from a New Zealand or overseas retailer.
If you buy from a New Zealand retailer then you are protected by New Zealand consumer law. The retailer must give you clear and easy to find information about their terms and conditions, and it's worth checking these to find out about their returns policy, warranties and how long delivery might take.
When you buy from a New Zealand retailer your purchase is covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act. This means the seller is responsible for ensuring the goods are delivered on time (or within the agreed period) and in acceptable condition.
If you are buying from an overseas retailer then you don’t have much protection at all so it’s a good idea to carefully check who you are buying from (see the next question).
Most established international online retailers and will usually try to help you resolve any problems you have with the purchase as it is good customer service to do so.
If you have a problem with a purchase from an overseas retailer and they won't sort it out, you can make a complaint at econsumer.gov. This is an international database of consumer complaints about overseas traders, which participating government agencies can use to identify help prevent international scams. They won’t be able to act on your behalf though.
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I’m not sure about handing over my credit card details for an online purchase. How do I make sure it is safe?
Before you buy from an online retailer, check the security on the website. Look for information about their privacy and security policies on their website.
You should check:
- Do they have proper contact details, e.g. phone, email and street address?
- Do they use a secure online payment system? Most websites display an image of a small closed padlock somewhere on their secure page that shows it is a secure site. If a website begins with "https://" instead of "http://" then it is probably reasonably secure.
- Do they have a complaints policy, and an easy way to lodge complaints?
- Do they have a refund and exchange policy?
- Are they clear about the total cost of purchase e.g. handling, shipping, insurance etc.?
Also look at the online feedback from other customers. Some retail websites offer to save your credit card details, for next time you buy from them. It's safer if you do not take up this offer.
More tips for safe online shopping are on the NetSafe website.
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What are my consumer rights when I buy goods from a Facebook site?
When you buy from someone via Facebook or any other online site, what your consumer rights are depends on:
If the person you are buying from is a professional trader in New Zealand, then you are covered by the Fair Trading Act. If the goods you buy are the kind normally for personal use then you are also covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act.
If the seller is not a New Zealand-based professional trader then you aren’t covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act or Fair Trading Act. The seller is still bound by rules on product safety and consumer information. You can read more about what your rights are in a private sale on our Private sales page.
If the seller is based overseas then you don't have much protection at all.
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What are my rights when I buy goods using an online trading site like Trade Me?
If the seller is a trader you are covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act (see What are my consumer rights when I buy goods from a Facebook site?). This means that the seller is obliged to ensure the goods are fit for purpose etc.
If the seller is not a trader then you aren’t covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act and need to take more care before you agree to buy.
More about buying from private individuals is on the Private sales page. It’s also worth checking with the trading site as some, like Trade Me, may be able to provide you with help resolving some issues.
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How can I tell whether the person selling online is a professional trader?
The law requires that professional traders to identify themselves as such when they offer goods or services for sale online. This information must be displayed clearly and prominently in every place online where a customer can make a purchase. This includes traders who sell via a third party such as Trade Me or an individual acting as their agent.
If you're a buyer you can also check:
- whether they mention a physical shop, or refer to themselves as a business;
- their website - if they are selling many items of the same kind and seem to have sold many items in the past, then they are probably a professional trader (even if they think of it as just a hobby).
If you sometimes sell goods online and are not sure whether you qualify as a trader, use this general rule of thumb – if you obtain goods for the purpose of selling them, then you are probably a trader.
For example, if you are selling your children’s old clothes that they have grown out of, then you are not a trader; if you sell children’s clothes that you bought while on holiday overseas because you thought you would sell them back home, then you are a trader.
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What can I do if I don’t receive goods ordered by mail order or online?
The first thing you should do is contact the seller and let them know that there has been a problem. You could ask them to check that they shipped it to the correct address, and if they have ask them to follow-up with the delivery company.
If the seller is a New Zealand retailer then they are responsible for ensuring the goods are delivered on time (or within the agreed period) and in acceptable condition. If this hasn’t happened you are entitled to ask for a refund and a cancellation of your order, or have a replacement sent to you.
If you bought from an overseas retailer then what your options are will depend on how you paid for the goods:
- If you paid for the goods using your credit card or debit card, you may be able to reverse the credit card transaction;
- If you paid using Paypal or another third party payment service, contact them. You may get your money back from the payment service;
- If you paid via Internet banking you may be reliant on the retailer’s good will.
Read our information about what todo if the seller is a private individual.
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I bought a video camera online and it was sent to me from overseas. Customs are charging me import duty and GST. What are my rights?
You may have to pay tax or GST on imported goods, like those purchased on eBay and other international websites. It doesn’t matter whether the imported goods were taxed in the country of purchase or not. In general Customs does not charge duties or taxes where these would total less than $60.
The New Zealand Customs Service has an online tool to help you work out whether you would need to pay customs duty or GST and how much. More information about customs is on our Customs and Biosecurity page.
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Should I have to pay for the postage costs when the online retailer sent me the wrong product and I have to exchange it for the right product?
If the item you received from a New Zealand based retailer is not the one you ordered, you are entitled to have it replaced at no extra cost to you – including the costs of postage.
If you returned the item simply because you have changed your mind about it, you should expect to pay the postage costs.