Shopping online is the safest place to be
Despite what you may have heard in the media, shopping online in South Africa is still the safest and best form of shopping you can do. This is because not only do you get more consumer protection than you would in real world, but also the supplier is liable if anything goes wrong with the payment system, something that does not happen in the real world. You can get better prices on the Internet, and you run less chance of being mugged on the way home!
Let's start at the beginning, as a consumer on the Internet, you receive certain consumer protections that you do not receive in the real world. So for example if you buy something from a shop in the real world, and you do not like it for some reason, if you wish to return it to the shop you are at the mercy of the shops returns policy, which they may or may not accept the good being returned. Very often what they will do is accept the return but give you a credit to purchase something else at the shop. Online it is a different story, and although there is a list of exceptions, other than these exceptions any good that you purchase online if you are unhappy for any reason at all you may return within seven days of receiving the good and the online store must refund you in full! In fact it goes even further, because if the online shop does not comply to the conditions set out in the ECT act, then you have 14 days in which you may return the good if you are not happy. And other than the cost of transporting the good, the online vendor may not charge you for the return of the good but must refund you in full.
Also, the online shop is obliged to make sure that you receive the goods or services you have ordered within 30 days, and if it fails to do so then you are entitled to demand a full refund of any payment you may have made. The act also quite emphatically states that the online vendor may not contract out of these rights, so if the online terms and conditions listed on the vendor's website contradict the rights I have mentioned, these rights will trump the website terms.
Secondly, unlike the real world, the online vendor must ensure that the payment system used is secure, and if it is not the online vendor is responsible for any loss that you may suffer, so in fact you are better off using your credit card on the Internet then you are in a restaurant. Should you suffer a loss as a result of your credit card being copied by a waiter for example, it would be very difficult to recover anything from the restaurant that you are at, whereas if you suffered a loss as a result of using your credit card on the Internet, the online vendor will have to refund you.
However there are a number of warnings. Firstly, South African law only applies to purchasing from a South African website where you are a South African consumer. So all of the consumer protection that I have mentioned only applies if you are purchasing from a South African website. Secondly, it is extremely important to check the website that you are purchasing from, to ensure that there is a legitimate company behind it. This means check to see that there are contact details for a physical address and company, make sure that there are contact details other than an e-mail, such as telephone and fax, so that if something goes wrong you can at least contact the vendor. Finally, it is important to keep your common sense about you, if an offer looks too good to be true it probably is, if a website requires you to send confidential financial information be very wary, and always feel free to contact the website, or perhaps telephonically before placing an order if you have any doubts.
13 Jun 2007
This article is intended to provide general guidance and does not constitute professional advice relating to specific instances. Should you wish to place any reliance on the information presented in this article we strongly advise that you consult your legal advisor or the Electronic Law Consultancy - firstname.lastname@example.org