7 tips for online shopping
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.
1. Know who you’re dealing with
Are you doing your holiday shopping online? The first rule is to check who you’re dealing with. Don’t automatically assume a business with a “co.nz” domain name is a Kiwi company. Look for the trader’s contact details on the site and read up on its returns policy (if it has one).
If things turn to custard, it can be easier to sort if the company has an office here. Search the Companies Register to check if the trader is NZ-registered.
2. Check the price
Think you’ve found the best price possible on the web? Online retailers are notorious for luring you with price promotions to tempt you to click “buy now”. But the price may not be a good deal after service, delivery and credit card fees.
Prepare to pay customs duties for overseas orders
If you’re buying goods worth more than $1,000 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 how much you’ll have to pay in duties with the Customs 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 you can only claim GST if the goods sent are not what you ordered or faulty. If you simply change your mind, you’ll have to pay the GST charge.
3. Ignore the sales hype
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.
4. Be aware of fake reviews
Fake reviews are a dime a dozen. If you’re searching for reviews of the product you’re eyeing up, watch for tell-tale signs they might be written by a paid reviewer. Repetitive language and stock phrases that could apply to almost anything are clues you may not be getting the full story.
Your best protection against the fakers is to go to independent sources of information (such as consumer.org.nz).
5. Spot the scams
Scammers never take holidays. If you’re tempted by an offer from a trader you’ve never heard of, do an online search of the trader’s name alongside “scam” or “fraud” to see what turns up. Be aware that social media marketplaces can be a mecca for scammers, so tread carefully.
6. Pay by card
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 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. Contact your bank immediately if you spot anything unusual – such as two transactions for one item.
7. Cover your tracks
To reduce the chances of traders offering you prices based on your online activity:
Regularly clear your cache and browsing data.
Check prices using another device (such as your desktop computer against your iPhone) or a different browser.
Compare deals before hitting the pay button.
Avoid using your Facebook or Google account when you buy. It may be easier than creating an account and remembering another password, but depending on your settings, the company may also gain access to your data.
Log out of sites like Facebook and Gmail while you’re browsing.
What the law says
The Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA) applies to all traders that advertise or sell to Kiwi consumers, even if the company is based abroad. The CGA covers all items bought from a trader for personal use. It doesn’t matter if you purchased the product or received it as a gift.
The CGA requires that goods:
are of acceptable quality
are fit for purpose
match the advertised descriptions
will be priced reasonably (if no price or pricing systems have been agreed upfront)
will be delivered on time or within a reasonable time if the supplier arranges delivery
will be owned by the customer once purchased.
What to do if things go wrong
Retailers don’t have to take back goods if you simply get a case of buyer’s remorse. But if your purchase isn’t of acceptable quality, it’s a different story.
Contact the retailer
Your first step is to contact the retailer and give it a chance to fix the problem. You'll need proof of purchase, such as a receipt or bank statement.
When the fault with the item is minor, the retailer can choose to repair it, replace it or give you a refund. If the item has a significant fault, it’s up to you whether you want a refund or replacement.
Retailers can’t dodge their CGA obligations by putting up signs such as “no refunds” or “no returns on sale items”. They also can’t bury these types of claims in their terms and conditions. If the product is faulty, the retailer must put it right.
Traders also risk breaching the Fair Trading Act if they mislead you about your rights or their products.
If an item bought from an overseas trader never shows up, your rights vary depending on the country’s consumer protection laws where the trader is based. It’s worth reporting problems to econsumer.gov, a network of consumer protection agencies. Complaints help it keep tabs on scams and trends.
Ask for a chargeback
If you didn’t receive your order or can’t get a refund from the retailer and you paid by credit or debit card, you can ask your bank for a chargeback.
Go to the Disputes Tribunal
Alternatively, you can file a claim with the Disputes Tribunal (for disputes up to $30,000). It costs between $45 and $180 to file a claim.
Complain to the Commerce Commission
If you’ve been misled by a retailer, make a complaint to the Commerce Commission. Let us know, too.
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