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A guide to buying gifts online

Doing your Christmas shopping online? Here are some things to consider.


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Shopping online

Doing your Christmas shopping online has some major advantages. You can find the perfect gift without having to find a carpark or hear a Christmas carol. But there are some things to be aware of before you remove your credit card from your wallet.

  • Check our product tests to see which models are recommended or worth considering.
  • Budget for delivery costs, and don’t forget purchases from overseas sites may be charged GST and/or import duty. There is more about tax on overseas purchases further down this page.
  • Make sure the pressie will get to you before Christmas, especially if you’re buying from overseas.
  • Check the site has a physical address and phone number so you can get hold of the retailer if something goes wrong.
  • Find out the site’s policy on returns. How long do you have to return an item? Who pays the postage?
  • Double check the site’s buying process is encrypted. When you’re prompted to pay, look for https:// and a small padlock symbol in the URL.
  • Pay with plastic. Credit or debit cards offer more protection than other forms of online payment. Keep a copy of the product description and order confirmation. That way, you can seek a refund if something goes wrong.
  • Read over your bank statements. Contact your bank if you spot anything strange – like two transactions for the same gift.

Online auctions

Trade Me is our most popular online “store” by some way. But before you bid on that ABBA boxset, you should know your consumer rights when it comes to online auctions. You now have much greater protection if your purchase is faulty. Goods bought via online auction are covered by the Consumer Guarantees Act provided you buy them from a trader rather than a private seller. What’s more, traders have to tell you they’re “in trade” so you know who you’re buying from. But you still have to be careful when buying via online auction.

  • Research the product before you buy it. Does the seller’s description ring true? Is the price about right?
  • Check the seller’s feedback.
  • Ask for a valuation to be posted on the site if you’re buying jewellery or other valuables. And if you win the auction, get the seller’s phone number in case you need to call them.

When your parcel doesn’t show up

Local sites and stores

You can rest easier if you’ve bought from a Kiwi site or store. Under the Consumer Guarantees Act, retailers that arrange delivery themselves have to make sure items arrive on time and in good condition. If you haven’t agreed on a date, delivery has to be within a “reasonable” time.

If the goods don’t arrive on time, you can claim compensation for any losses you incur because of the delay. You can also reject the item and claim a refund if the failure to deliver is “substantial”. For instance, you could ask for a refund if a retailer promised to deliver an item before Christmas Eve, but failed. Under the Act, the retailer has to put things right when goods arrive damaged. It can’t just blame the courier and leave you to pick up the pieces.

Overseas sites and stores

If you’re having a problem with an overseas trader, visit econsumer.gov. It gives you info about other countries’ consumer rights and also allows you to make a complaint. Still no luck? Many retailers use social media to correspond with their customers. One way to prompt a response is to post your complaint on the retailer’s Facebook page or Twitter account.


When you send a parcel by courier (or check in your luggage with an airline), you’re covered by the Contract and Commercial Law Act. If you signed a contract with the courier, it’ll specify the courier’s liability for goods damaged during transit. If you didn’t sign a contract, goods are carried at “limited carrier’s risk”. This means the courier is liable for any unintentional damage up to $2000.

NZ Post

It has its own Act with different rules under its “Public Contract”. Its limits of liability are:

  • $250 for postal items.
  • $2000 for domestic delivery courier items.
  • $2000 for international delivery courier items.

NZ Post also isn’t liable for any consequential costs because of delays.

Tax on overseas purchases

Mail-order or internet purchases from overseas may be charged GST and/or import duty (another form of tax). Footwear, for instance, is charged 10 percent duty. You’ll be charged GST and/or import duty if the total taxes on your purchase come to more than $60. If the amount payable is less than $60, it's not economical for the New Zealand Customs Service to collect it.

If the threshold of $60 of GST and/or duty is reached, you’ll also be charged an “import entry transaction fee” and a “biosecurity system entry levy”. The combined total for these two fees is $49.24. If you need to pay duty, you’ll be notified by NZ Post or the freight company. You won’t get your goods until you’ve paid up.

Typically, goods under $400 will not incur any duty or GST. But this does not apply to goods that attract both duty and GST, such as clothing, shoes and accessories. With these items, there may be a charge if the value is over $NZ225.

The easiest way to figure out if you’ll be charged duty (and how much) is to use the Customs’ online calculator.

Credit and debit chargebacks

Disaster has struck. The gift you bought online never showed up. Or it did but it’s not what you ordered. Or it’s broken. You contact the retailer, but it refuses to help or ignores you. What to do?

If you paid by credit or debit card, you can ask your bank for a chargeback. To get one, you need to provide the bank with details, including the date and amount of purchase, and a description of the goods ordered.

However, you can’t receive a chargeback from the bank simply because you’ve changed your mind about a purchase. There must be a major problem with the item, which the retailer has failed or refused to remedy.

There’s a time limit on the eligibility for chargebacks. Some banks allow two months from the transaction date, others give you 30 days from your credit card statement closing date.

If the retailer doesn’t have enough money to refund you, the bank will stump up as long as your claim meets its conditions. It’s then up to the bank to reclaim the money from the retailer. If your claim is accepted, you’ll get your money back plus any interest you’ve been charged. Note that while a successful claim is usually free, most banks charge between $5 and $10 for unsuccessful chargeback attempts.

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