In the UK, when buying online we have rights to cancel after receving delivery under the distance selling regulations, which have recently been extended from 7 to 14 days by the new EU Consumer Rights Directive. There is a whole range of specific rights but this article focusses on the right to return an appliance bought online for a refund.
Can you send an appliance back because you don’t like it?
Under distance selling regulations yes, we don’t have to have any reason whatsoever. We are just entitled to send it back within 14 days of receiving the goods (not from order date) for a full refund including the delivery costs*. This return period has always been 7 days, but it’s now been doubled. We only have these rights because we are buying blind – which means until the item is delivered and we can see, touch and feel it we can’t be sure it’s what we wanted. I’m not sure why we need 14 days to check it out though, it’s not as if we can use them, this is a time period allowed to unpack and inspect only.
*Refunding the cost of delivery. The trader only has to refund the basic delivery cost of getting the goods to you in the first place, so if you paid extra for an enhanced service such as guaranteed next day delivery they only have to refund the basic cost.
Can you still send it back if you’ve used it?
These rights are simply to protect us from having to keep products we’ve bought expecting one thing (having only been able to judge from a photo and description) and receiving something that looks quite different in real life. The idea that we can use it and then return for a refund is a step too far. The retailer needs to be able to resell a product. Using any product is accepting it. Once accepted, unless something is covered under the sale of goods act you shouldn’t be able to return it unless by any chance the retailer allows it.
If the appliance is faulty, this comes under different regulation (Sale of goods act – faulty appliances)
Can you send an appliance back if it doesn’t fit?
You should make sure you have measured up properly. Length width and depth sizes should be quoted on any advertisement or web site. If the quoted measurements are wrong (it happens) then the onus should be on the retailer. If you just failed to check and the new one doesn’t fit then technically that’s your fault. However, I would expect most large retailers might accommodate you.
What if you look at an appliance in a shop and then order it from their web site?
If you saw it in a shop and then ordered it online the distance selling regulations shouldn’t apply because their purpose is to protect us when we haven’t had an opportunity to examine goods before entering a sales contract. In practice of course most retailers will be unaware of any previous examination, especially any large retailer. However, if for example you dealt with a small independent shop who remembers you, and they had demonstrated an appliance which you subsequently ordered from their web site, they could dispute any attempt to send it back under distant selling regulations.
Do you have to send it back in the original packaging?
Removing packaging is essential in order to see if the appliance is acceptable or not. If an appliance comes with packaging that can’t be refitted there’s nothing we can do about that. I’ve seen cases where retailers have in their terms and conditions that returns must be received in the original packaging, but they can’t insist on that if it’s not possible or practical. The regulations specifically state –
Packaging: You may ask customers to take care when they open the package or return goods with the original packaging, but you cannot insist on this. ”
It is wise however to try to remove transit packaging as carefully as possible and try to repack before returning to prevent damage during the return journey. If a retailer claims they received the appliance with dints or scratches this could prove a difficult situation to resolve.
Who pays the costs of returning an appliance?
Most retailers should arrange to get the appliance picked back up using the same people who delivered it although they can still charge to do so if they’ve specified this in terms & conditions and in writing at point of sale. In theory some could insist on you arranging to get them back yourself, which theoretically could happen with a small independent retailer, but again, they must inform you of this in their terms and conditions and in writing (usually on the email confirmation).
How much can they charge? They’d have to make reasonable real-world charges but they could be unexpectedly high because initial delivery charges when purchasing are commonly subsidised. You may have even had free delivery, or paid a relatively modest delivery charge only to find they want substantially more to fetch it back. If you send an appliance back because you’ve changed your mind or don’t like it you may have to pay the “proper” costs, but again, this should be made clear when initially buying so you can decide if it’s acceptable.
Watch out for big American Freezers or large cookers
Return charges for a retailer picking up a very large appliance such as an American fridge freezer or one of the large cookers might be quite shocking. I’ve seen quotes for around £100 (Delivering American-style fridge freezers).
Fortunately some large retailers offer to have the appliance picked up free of charge e.g. John Lewis (affiliate link)
You must get your money refunded within 14 days
You are responsible for returning the items within 14 calendar days of cancelling, and refunds must be paid within 14 calendar days after returning the goods, or with evidence that they were returned.
You must take care of the goods
You need to take reasonable care to ensure that the appliance is returned in good condition and not damaged in transit. If you don’t exercise reasonable care and the goods are damaged when received back they may well make a claim against you for breach of this duty. This is where saving the packaging, removing it carefully and refitting it prior to being picked up make sense. If you destroyed or threw away the packaging and the appliance gets damaged during its return journey you might be accused of not taking reasonable care and face charges if damage occurs.
What about special orders?
If a product has been specially made for you it can be excluded from the distance selling regulations and you won’t be able to change your mind. However, this exclusion is meant to protect retailers from bespoke orders that would be impossible or difficult to re-sell, or would deteriorate quickly – not “special orders” –
Products may not be returned if they are genuinely tailor-made products. If they are put together by combining off-the-peg options, then they may be returned. ”
So it doesn’t appear to extend to cover products that they don’t actually stock, even if they specially ordered them for you. These would be “off the peg” appliances rather than tailor-made. It’s possible some might interpret it this way though and refuse to accept back an appliance that they don’t stock (because they would normally find it difficult to sell) but specifically ordered for you. If this happens you would need to seek advice.
Summary of useful points
The distance selling regulations and Consumer Rights Directive from the EU cover further rights and obligations not gone in to on this article. Here’s a short list of some other relevant points.
- New legislation from October 1st 2015 says if a product is faulty within 30 days customers are entitled to a full refund if required
- A retailer’s failure to provide the required information to the customer in the way set out in the regulations, could result in the 14 day cancellation rights being extended by up to a year
- A deduction can be made by the retailer if the value of the goods has been reduced as a result of the customer handling the goods more than was necessary
- The extent to which a customer can handle the goods is the same as it would be if they were assessing them in a shop
- The seller’s terms and conditions or returns policy should state who pays the cost of returning the item. If they don’t state this, then the seller has to cover the cost. In this case, you’re entitled to a refund of the total amount you paid, including costs to ship the item to you, and the fee to return the item. No admin or restocking fees should be charged
This article and the research put into it were inspired after my personal experience of poor distance selling compliance