Online sellers 



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 just like an over the counter sale. The retailer is required to provide clear and easy to find information about their terms and conditions, and it's worth checking these to find out what to expect regarding returns, warranties and how long delivery might take.

When you buy from a New Zealand retailer your purchase is covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act, so the seller is responsible for ensuring that 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).

Having said that, most established international online retailers try to provide good customer service because it is good for their business, so if you have a problem with something you bought from them they will usually try to help you resolve it.

If you have a problem with a purchase from an overseas retailer and you are unable to sort it out, you can make a complaint at econsumer.gov (econsumer.govt is an international initiative which provides a way for consumers to report complaints about overseas traders. Complaints are recorded on a database which participating government agencies can access). They won’t be able to act on your behalf but the information you provide can be used to help prevent international scams.

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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 decide to buy anything online you need to check that the website uses a good security system to protect any personal information you enter into it. Information about their privacy and security policies should be in clear and simple language that you can understand.

Some of the things you should check include:

  • Do they have proper contact details, e.g. phone, email and street address? 
  • Do they use a secure online payment system?  Most websites will have 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.?

It can also be worth looking online to see what experiences other people have had with that particular retailer.

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?

If you buy goods or services from someone via Facebook or any other online site, then what your consumer rights are pretty much boils down to whether the seller is considered a professional trader or not, and whether the seller is based in New Zealand.

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 considered a professional trader then the purchase is treated as a private sale. This means you aren’t covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act or Fair Trading Act, though the seller is still bound by rules about 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 then you are covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act (see the previous question and answer). This means that the seller is obliged to ensure the goods are fit for purpose etc.

If the seller is not a trader then the sale is effectively a private one. This means 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 or not?

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 to see whether they appear to be selling many items of the same kind and seem to have sold a lot of items in the past. If so, 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.

So, for example, if you are selling off your children’s old clothes that they have grown out of, then you are not a trader; if you buy extra children’s clothes while on holiday in India because you can 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 you have bought from a New Zealand retailer then the retailer is responsible for ensuring that 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 your bought from an overseas retailer then you are reliant on the retailer’s good will.

You can read our information about what you can do 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.