With only about a month to go until Christmas, you’re probably starting to turn your mind to Christmas shopping. Amid all the excitement and last-minute rush to get your loved ones the perfect gift, you may find yourself looking to online shopping as an attractive option. While online shopping can be very convenient, it is important to take some precautions before you purchase anything online.

Beware of scams

When you’re shopping online, it can sometimes be hard to tell whether you’re purchasing from a legitimate seller, as opposed to a scammer. The ACCC recommends that you take some precautionary measures to minimise the risk of being scammed, including:

  • Only buy from online sellers that have a good reputation and clearly display their:
  • refund policy
  • privacy measures to protect your financial and personal details
  • contact details
  • physical address
  • business registration number
  • Check the terms and conditions
  • Ensure the device you are using has anti-virus software installed
  • Never give an online ‘seller’ your bank password

Be mindful of delays

Recent supply chain issues could mean that the goods you are searching for are difficult or impossible to find. If you do find what you’re looking for, they might be more expensive than usual or they might not arrive by the time you are told they will. What can you do about this from a legal point of view?

What are your rights?

An online seller that delivers goods to Australia has to comply with the Australian Consumer Law (“ACL”). The following guarantees apply to all goods that are purchased in Australia (even if the seller is overseas):

  • The goods are of acceptable quality
  • The goods match the description provided
  • Any express warranties must be honoured
  • The goods do not have any undisclosed securities
  • The goods are fit for their specified purpose
  • The goods match the sample or demonstration model provided

If any of these guarantees aren’t met, the consumer has remedies available to them under the ACL, including the repair/replacement of the goods, a refund or compensation, depending on the circumstances.

Although consumers in Australia have protections under the ACL, in reality it can be difficult to enforce your rights against an overseas seller, which is why the ACCC recommends only buying from sellers with a good reputation. If you think any of the above guarantees were not met, then you should request a refund, repair or replacement from the seller. If the seller refuses, you can make a complaint to the ACCC.

In regard to delays, it is likely that there will be fine print before you purchase online saying that the delivery time is only an estimate.

However, if supply chain issues are affecting more than just your Christmas shopping (ie. if it’s affecting your business) then it may be worth checking your contract to see if you have any legal recourse.

The first thing you should look for is whether failure to deliver the goods constitutes a breach of contract. Then, you should also consider whether there is any flexibility built into the contract. It’s also possible that there’s a force majeure clause, which would have the effect of putting all contractual obligations ‘on hold’ during a force majeure event. Supply chain issues caused by a pandemic are potentially sufficient to give rise to a force majeure clause, depending on the wording of the clause.

If you have been affected by a breach of consumer laws, or if the global supply chain issues have affected your business, don’t hesitate to contact Lynn & Brown Lawyers. Our commercial advisory and dispute resolution team will be happy to assist.

About the authors: This article has been co-authored by Chelsea McNeill and Steven Brown. Chelsea is a lawyer that graduated from Murdoch University. Steven is a Perth lawyer and director, and has over 20 years’ experience in legal practice and practices in commercial law, dispute resolution and estate planning.

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