More than 13,000 problems with purchases in England and Wales on online marketplaces were reported to the Citizens Advice consumer service last year.
Online marketplaces – websites where traders and private individuals list and sell products – are becoming increasingly popular for people trying to find the best deal.
As customers turn to online marketplaces in the lead-up to Christmas, Citizens Advice Cornwall is warning residents to be aware of the dangers.
This year’s National Consumer Week (26 November to 2 December) focuses on customer rights when buying from an online marketplace. Citizens Advice Cornwall says people don’t always know they have fewer rights when they buy from a private seller, compared to buying from a business.
If you buy from a private seller the principle of “buyer beware” applies. This means while the seller can’t mis-describe the item, they can omit information. For example, if a laptop is described as being a silver laptop in “excellent working condition” but it’s faulty, you could ask for your money back. But if “excellent working condition” is missing from the description, you won’t be able to.
As part of National Consumer Week, Citizens Advice Cornwall suggests people check all the product information carefully before buying something on an online marketplace. They also recommend that shoppers take extra care, like reading previous reviews and saving screenshots of their purchases.
Bernie Buck, deputy chief executive of Citizens Advice Cornwall said:
“Far too many people are being ripped off on online marketplaces. As part of National Consumer Week we want to make sure customers know what to look out for when making a purchase and their rights if something goes wrong.
“With millions of people trying to find a bargain online, buyers need to beware when purchasing off online marketplaces.
“To reduce the risk of being left out-of-pocket it’s a good idea to check the product information on these sites carefully before they make a purchase.”
Here are Citizens Advice’s tips for using online marketplaces:
Check the product details
This should include: photos; a description; cost of the item; delivery charges; contact details for the seller; and any cancellation rights.
It should be clear if it’s being sold by a trader or private seller – this is important as your rights are different.
It is wise to read previous reviews as these can often flag potential issues, but watch out for fake reviews. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Take screenshots of the item you want to buy
This will come in handy if the item you receive is different to what you saw on the website.
Use a payment method that protects you
You’ll have a better chance of getting your money back if there’s a problem by using a card or Paypal, particularly if it’s an overseas seller. Avoid paying by bank transfer.
Go back to the seller if there’s a problem
Explain what’s happened, how you’d like them to fix it and give a deadline for them to respond. If they don’t sort it out, see if there’s an alternative dispute resolution service that can help. Report them and the online marketplace to Trading Standards if you think the issue is unfair.
Getting your money back from a private seller
The product description needs to be accurate, but if information is missing you won’t be able to ask for your money back.
If the item doesn’t match the photos on the website, you may also have grounds to ask for your money back.