Make sure your bargain buying goes to plan.
Online shopping has plenty of attractions but there are also plenty of pitfalls, from hidden costs to shady traders and goods that never arrive. Here are our tips to help ensure your online spending goes smoothly.
Before you order, check the contact details on the website. Look for a physical address and phone number. Be aware a website with a .co.nz domain name doesn’t mean the trader is based here. It’s no guarantee you’re buying locally.
The New Zealand Companies Register – companiesoffice.govt.nz – is your first port of call to find out whether a trader is registered here.
Think you’ve found the best price possible on the web? Online retailers are notorious for luring customers with price promotions to tempt you to click “buy now”. But the price can turn out not to be that sharp when service, delivery and credit card fees are added.
You may also fall victim to price discrimination tactics. Your online activity, from your Facebook profile data to the cookies stored on your computer, gives websites clues about your preferences and behaviour. Your purchasing history can also indicate how much you’re willing to pay.
Online retailers Amazon and Orbitz have previously been outed for offering different prices to people based on their location or recommending pricier options to Apple users.
If you’re buying goods worth more than $1000 from overseas traders, be aware you’ll be on the hook for duties and GST when your purchase arrives in the country. You can estimate what you’re up with Custom’s duty calculator.
If you need to return the item – for example, because it’s the wrong size – you may be charged again when the replacement is sent. Customs offers refunds (which it terms drawbacks) on these charges when you return an order, though GST can only be claimed back if the goods sent are incorrect or faulty. If you simply change your mind, you’ll have the wear the GST charge.
You know the drill: the website claims the item you’re looking at is “selling out fast” or there’s “limited stock remaining” in your size.
It’s a tactic designed to pressure you into buying on the spot. Resist the sales pitch.
Traders misleading customers about the availability of goods risk breaching the Fair Trading Act and a fine of up to $600,000. If you think a retailer has misled you, make a complaint to the Commerce Commission.
We recommend using a debit or credit card to shop online – that way you can apply for a chargeback if the correct goods don’t show up.
Every time you enter your credit card information, check the site is secure. In your browser, look for a small padlock symbol near the address bar in your browser and whether this address starts with “https” (the “s” stands for secure) rather than the standard “www” or “http”.
Take a screenshot of your completed order or save a copy of the order confirmation in case something goes wrong. Keep an eye on your bank statements. If you spot anything unusual – such as two transactions for one item – contact your bank immediately.
If your parcel doesn’t show up, you’ll be able to claim a refund if the retailer agreed to deliver an item by a set date. But even if you haven’t agreed on a date, the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) requires delivery to be within a “reasonable” time.
Retailers are also on the hook if the item arrives damaged and they’ve arranged delivery – don’t let them fob you off by blaming the courier.
If you make a purchase from a trader operating in our market, regardless of whether it’s a Kiwi-based company or not, it’s covered by our consumer legislation.
Any company conducting business here has to comply with the Fair Trading Act and CGA. However, the CGA is self-enforcing – you’ll have to take a business to the Disputes Tribunal if it fails to comply – so holding a retailer to account can be easier if it has an office here.
Another tactic for getting a company’s attention is complaining on the retailer’s Facebook page or Twitter account.
If an item bought from an overseas trader never shows up, your rights vary depending on the country’s consumer protection laws. It’s worth reporting problems to econsumer.gov, a network of consumer protection agencies. Complaints help it keep tabs on scams and trends.
If you’ve paid by credit or debit card and strike a problem with the retailer, you can contact your bank and ask for a chargeback.
The process – where the credit or debit card company reverses a charge – can be a buyer’s last resort to remedy a purchase gone wrong.
To reduce the chances of traders offering you prices based on your online activity: